THE CASE OF JAMIE SULLIVAN: ASSESSING COMPETENCE
Jamie Sullivan was a 24-year-old clerk charged with arson, burglary, and murder in connection with a fire he had set at a small grocery store in Kentucky. The evidence in the case was that after closing hours, Sullivan had returned to the store where he worked and forced the night manager, Ricky Ford, to open the safe and hand over the $800 in cash it contained. Sullivan then locked Ford in a backroom office, doused the room in gasoline, and set the store on fire. Ford was killed in the blaze. On the basis of a lead from a motorist who saw Sullivan running from the scene, police arrested him at his grandmother’s apartment a few hours later. If convicted on all charges, Sullivan faced a possible death sentence.
Jamie Sullivan was mentally retarded. (In 2002, the Supreme Court indicated that those with mental retardation cannot be executed [Atkins v. Virginia] so Jamie Sullivan might not have been charged with a capital crime after 2002.) He had dropped out of school in the eighth grade, and a psychologist’s evaluation of him at that time reported his IQ to be 68. He could read and write his name and a few simple phrases, but nothing more. He had a history of drug abuse and had spent several months in a juvenile correctional camp at the age of 15 after vandalizing five homes in his neighborhood. The army rejected his attempt to volunteer for service because of his limited intelligence and drug habit. His attorney believed that Sullivan’s mental problems might render him incompetent to stand trial (IST) and therefore asked a psychologist to evaluate him. After interviewing and testing Sullivan and reviewing the evidence the police had collected, the psychologist found the following: Sullivan’s current IQ was 65, which fell in the mentally retarded range; he did not suffer any hallucinations or delusions, but he expressed strong religious beliefs that “God watches over his children and won’t let nothing hap- pen to them.” The psychologist asked Sullivan a series of questions about his upcoming trial, to which he gave the following answers:
Q. What are you charged with?
A. Burning down that store and stealing from Ricky.
Q. Anything else?
A. They say I killed Ricky too.
Q. What could happen to you if a jury found you guilty?
A. Electric chair, but God will watch over me.
Q. What does the judge do at a trial?
A. He tells everybody what to do.
Q. If somebody told a lie about you in court, what would you do?
A. Get mad at him.
Q. Anything else?
A. Tell my lawyer the truth.
Q. What does your lawyer do if you have a trial?
A. Show the jury I’m innocent.
Q. How could he do that best?
A. Ask questions and have me tell them I wouldn’t hurt Ricky. I liked Ricky.
Q. What does the prosecutor do in your trial?
A. Try to get me found guilty.
Q. Who decides if you are guilty or not?
A. That jury.
At a hearing to determine whether Jamie Sullivan was competent to stand trial, the psychologist testified that Sullivan was mentally retarded and that, as a result, his understanding of the proceedings was not as accurate or thorough as it might otherwise be. However, the psychologist also testified that Sullivan could assist his attorney and that he did understand the charges against him, as well as the general purpose and nature of his trial.
How do you feel the judge should rule in the case of Jamie Sullivan? Was he competent? Provide evidence form the readings to support your argument