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Competent drunks: Beer not a get-out-of-jail-free card


The state Supreme Court on Wednesday made sure that a convicted rapist will remain behind bars for the rest of his life. With luck, the court’s unanimous rejection of rapist William Decato’s absurd legal claim will keep other criminals from wasting the court system’s time with similar frivolous challenges.

In 2009, Decato broke into a Manchester woman’s home while she was sleeping and sexually assaulted her numerous times over the course of two hours. He argued that because he was too drunk to remember the night in question, he was not competent to stand trial. The trial court rejected the claim, and he appealed. On Wednesday the Supreme Court unanimously upheld his conviction.

Decato said he had amnesia because he drank 18 beers on the day of the crime. His inability to recall the particulars of the evening made it impossible for him to “communicate facts relevant to possible defenses to his counsel,” as the Supreme Court summarized his claim.

But of course the competency test is silent on a defendant’s forgetfulness. It addresses his state of mind during the trial, not at the time of the alleged crime. Besides, if intoxication during the commission of a crime were grounds for incompetency to stand trial, we’d have nearly empty prisons. Kudos to the court for its forceful rejection of Decato’s ridiculous argument.

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