Dusky v. United States

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Dusky v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court
Decided April 18, 1960
Full case nameMilton Dusky v. United States
Citations362 U.S. 402 (more)
80 S. Ct. 788; 4 L. Ed. 2d 824; 1960 U.S. LEXIS 1307
Case history
Prior271 F.2d 385 (8th Cir. 1959)
Subsequent295 F.2d 743 (8th Cir. 1961)
The competency standard for standing trial: whether the defendant has "sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding" and a "rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him."
Court membership
Chief Justice
Earl Warren
Associate Justices
Hugo Black · Felix Frankfurter
William O. Douglas · Tom C. Clark
John M. Harlan II · William J. Brennan Jr.
Charles E. Whittaker · Potter Stewart
Case opinion
Per curiam

Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case in which the Court affirmed a defendant's right to have a competency evaluation before proceeding to trial.[1] The Court outlined the basic standards for determining competency.[2]


Milton Dusky, a 33-year-old man, was charged with assisting in the kidnapping and rape of an underage female. He was clearly suffering from schizophrenia but was found competent to stand trial and received a sentence of 45 years. On petition of writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, the petitioner requested for his conviction to be reversed on the grounds that he was not competent to stand trial at the time of the proceeding.[2]


Upon reviewing the evidence, the court decided to grant the writ of certiorari. The court ruled that to be competent to stand trial the defendant must have a "sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding" and a "rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him."[1] The court made clear that a brief mental status exam was insufficient. His case was remanded for retrial, at which time his sentence was reduced to 20 years.[2]


This case set the current standard for adjudicative competence in the United States. Although the statutes addressing competency vary from state to state in the United States, the two elements outlined in the decision are held in common:

  • The defendant must understand the charges against him or her
  • The defendant must have the ability to aid his or her attorney in his or her own defense.[1][3]

Felhous (2011), who argues that many state statutes and the federal statute do not incorporate the rationality standard enunciated in Dusky.[4]

Subsequently, in Godinez v. Moran (1993), the Supreme Court held that the competency standard for pleading guilty or waiving the right to counsel is the same as the competency standard for standing trial established in Dusky.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960).  This article incorporates public domain material from this U.S government document.
  2. ^ a b c "Assessment of Competency and Sanity". Archived from the original on 2007-06-04. Retrieved 2007-10-05.
  3. ^ Grisso, Thomas (1988). Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations: A Manual for Practice (1988 ed.). Sarasota FL: Professional Resource Exchange. pp. 1–23. ISBN 978-0-943158-51-8.
  4. ^ Felthous, A. R. (2011). Competence to stand trial should require rational understanding. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 39(1), 19-30. http://www.jaapl.org/content/39/1/19.full
  5. ^ Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S. 389 (1993).

External links[edit]