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2nd Cir: Trial Court Didn't Err in Letting Aafia Siddiqui Testify

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 09, 2012 3:06 PM

This week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui's conviction and sentence for shooting at FBI agents and soldiers after her arrest in Afghanistan, Reuters reports.

The court, in a decision issued Monday, concluded that a trial court judge had not erred in allowing Siddiqui to take the stand in her own defense at trial.

Afghan National Police (ANP) detained Siddiqui, a U.S.-educated Pakistani national, in Ghazni City, Afghanistan, on suspicion of attempting to attack the Governor of Ghazni. When police took her into custody, Siddiqui had various documents that discussed the construction of weapons, referenced a "mass casualty attack," and listed a number of New York City landmarks.

Afghan authorities brought Siddiqui to an ANP facility for questioning, and later delivered the materials found in Siddiqui's possession to the U.S. Army.

The U.S. dispatched a team to the ANP facility to interview Siddiqui and take her into American custody. Siddiqui gained control of the Chief Warrant Officer's rifle at the ANP, aimed it at members of the American team, allegedly shouted "death to America," and fired. The Chief Warrant Officer drew his sidearm and shot Siddiqui in the stomach.

While team members attempted to restrain Siddiqui, she reportedly screamed anti-American statements, like "I am going to kill all you Americans. You are going to die by my blood" and "I will kill all you motherf-----s."

Siddiqui was convicted after a jury trial of attempted murder of U.S. nationals, attempted murder of U.S. officers and employees, armed assault of U.S. officers and employees, assault of U.S. officers and employees, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence. She was sentenced to 86 years in prison.

Siddiqui appealed to the Second Circuit on five grounds, most notably that the district court erred in allowing her to testify in her own defense despite a request from defense counsel to preclude her from doing so because of her alleged mental illness. Siddiqui based her argument on the Supreme Court's decision in Indiana v. Edwards, holding that a state may determine that a defendant who is competent to stand trial may nonetheless be incapable of representing himself at trial and may thus insist that the defendant have trial counsel.

The Second Circuit found that her reliance on Edwards was misplaced because "common sense dictates that the mental capacity needed to conduct an entire trial is much greater than the mental capacity required to play the more limited role of witness on one's own behalf. Moreover, the defendant's right to air her version of events before a jury is more fundamental to a personal defense than the right of self-representation.'"

The court further noted that the ultimate decision to testify remains at all times with the defendant; defense counsel, though charged with an obligation to apprise the defendant of the benefits and risks of testifying, cannot make the decision, regardless of tactical considerations.

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