A federal judge decided that Jared Loughner, accused of killing six when he opening fire on a public appearance of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in Tucson, is not competent to stand trial.
The decision was handed down by Judge Larry Burns, who serves on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
A pyschologist and a psychiatrist agreed that Loughner is schizophrenic, a conclusion they reached after examining Loughner while he was held at a federal prison in Missouri. The doctors referenced his distrust of lawyers and inability to grasp the justice system.
After the shooting, journalists probing into Loughner's past found what seemed to be warning signals of his mental instability. Loughner's former philosophy professor spoke of his nonsensical, disconnected thinking and said he attempted to get Loughner into counseling, although the professor said he had not detected any violent tendencies. Another professor described Loughner's rant over losing credit for a late paper prompting her to call the police.
Loughner is likely bound for a treatment program aimed at rehabilitating him so he can be tried. The 1960 Supreme Court decision Dusky v. United States laid the legal framework for determining psychological capacity to be tried in court, establishing that an individual must be able to communicate with his lawyer and understand the charges against him. Doctors who examined Loughner said he could do neither, citing his paranoid distrust of lawyers.
Declaring someone criminally insane carries much more weight and often involves years in a psychiatric hospital. But those labeled unfit for trial generally go through a temporary period of treatment aimed at restoring their ability to stand trial. This consists of both medication and education on what a trial would entail, from the fundamental workings of the justice system to basic rules of behavior.
People can be restored to competency with treatment most of the time, said Dr. Pogos Voskanian, a clinical and forensic pychiatrist who has provided expert testimony in trials. They don't have to be perfect as long as they can reasonably well cooperate with their lawyer and they have reasonable comprehension of the charges against them.
While it is possible that further adjudication will find Loughner insane, Voskanian said that such cases are extremely rare.