Monday, April 14, 2008

Incompetent to stand trial but still legally able to own guns

In 2005, Scott Buchanan was found incompetent to stand trial. Buchanan had been charged with theft, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest after an incident at the New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles. At the time of his arrest police seized a handgun from his car and as a condition of bail Buchanan surrendered his AK-47. Charges against Buchanan were later dropped after he was found incompetent to stand trial because of his excessive and unusual paranoia about police and the government.

Now, Buchanan wants his guns back. And he just might get them. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled, in a unanimous decision, that being incompetent to stand trial should not be equated with an adjudication as a mental defective under federal law, and therefore such a person should not be automatically prohibited from possessing firearms. Buchanan is now back in lower court, seeking the return of his guns.

According to court documents, being competent to stand trial “focuses upon whether the defendant has a rational and factual understanding of the proceeding against him and sufficient present ability to consult with and assist his lawyer on the case with a reasonable degree of rational understanding.” And that this is not “directly related to dangerousness or the ability to contract or manage one’s own affairs which are requirements of the federal definition of adjudicated as a mental defective.”

Under this ruling it is therefore possible for someone to be found incompetent to stand trial and still be able to possess firearms. The court can find that you don't have the rational understanding to participate in a court proceeding against you but that shouldn't stop you from owning a handgun, an AK-47, or any other type of gun. Now that’s insane.