The number of cases involving mental incompetence has been increasing within the U.S. during recent years. According to a 2008 article from USA Today, “Legal analysts attribute the increase to a lack of mental health care, judges’ increased openness to such claims and legal strategies by defendants to avoid harsh punishment” (Johnson & Seaman, 2008).
It would make sense that more criminals would want to use the defense of mental incompetence, simply because of the fact that if they are found to be incompetent to stand trial, they are then sent to a mental health facility to be treated – if treatment is successful then the defendant can and will stand trial; if treatment is unsuccessful then the defendant can essentially avoid the trial and harsh punishment altogether. There likely aren’t many criminals out there that wouldn’t want to avoid a trial and/or harsh punishment for the crime they committed, if given the opportunity to show that they do actually lack the competence to stand trial for their actions.
Because of the increasing efforts to identify the wrongfully convicted, competency claims have been gaining more acceptance with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers. Mental incompetence can surely play a large role when it comes to wrongful convictions. There are so many people who have competence issues in general, that when someone with this status makes a confession for a crime, it could very well be that they simply do not understand exactly what they are confessing to.
Because prosecutors then have a confession from the so-called criminal, they are able to then move forward with the case and sentence that person to their given punishment. This makes for a very quick, easy, open and shut case for both the prosecutors and judges alike because someone is stepping up and taking responsibility for a crime for which justice must be served.
Johnson, K., & Seaman, A. (2008). Mentally incompetent defendants on rise. USA Today. Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/washington/judicial/2008-05-28-Incompetent_N.htm?POE=click-refer