Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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Incompetent to Stand Trial?

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | January 12, 2011

No. 565

The Wall Street Journal Law Blog recently called attention to an interesting case in Philadelphia.  A drug runner was arrested while transporting cocaine from the West to Philly by car.  He turned out to be deaf and illiterate.  He hasn’t spoken a word since the arrest.  It is believed by authorities that he does not understand any language.  His public defender has been unable to communicate with him to prepare for trial.  Is he incompetent to stand trial?

A great deal of skepticism was expressed by the WSJ Law Blog readership.  How could this individual learn how to drive from Nevada to Pennsylvania without someone explaining what to do?  How could he know what exits to take if he can’t read the signs? How could he know where to deliver the package?  Or at the bottom of it all, how did he learn to drive a car and pass a driver’s license?  In other words, many of them ain’t buying it.

Some interesting suggestions were offered for how to communicate information like the charges and trial procedure:  cartoons;  television shows; puppets.  But communication is a two way street.

Okay, suppose you get past that problem. How to prove that he knew he was delivering cocaine.  Or anything?

Imagine this scenario:  drug dealers discover him and realize that he is the perfect runner.  Someone drives him over and over from the starting point to the ending point.  Eventually, he drives while the trainer rides as a passenger.  When he has learned the route perfectly, they send him on a solo trip several times before trusting him with a package.

Of course, there are other details to master — buying gas, buying food.  But, then, maybe he could be trained to do that, too.

It would make a great movie script.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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