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Associate Dean Daniel Filler Comments on Mass Shooting Trial, Mental Incompetence in Wall Street Journal

January 09, 2013

A California judge's decision to declare a man accused of shooting seven people at an Oakland college in April mentally unfit for trial has heightened the debate on how to prosecute people with potentially dangerous mental illnesses.  Senior Associate Dean Daniel Filler provided his thoughts on the subject in the Wall Street Journal

The judge in the Oakland case declared the shooter mentally unfit to stand trial after he had been evaluated by two mental-health professionals, the Wall Street Journal reported.  Filler commented that, although most people might presume a mass shooter to have mental issues, insanity and mental incompetency have very narrow legal definitions and involve different considerations. 

To be declared mentally unfit to stand trial, a judge must decide only whether the defendant can understand the nature of the legal  proceedings or assist his or her own defense, Filler said.  Insanity, on the other hand, turns on a person's ability to differentiate between right and wrong or understand the consequences of his or her actions, Filler concluded.  

Filler, a former public defender, studies the effects of social anxiety on the development of criminal law.