How Can Accused Terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui Refuse a Psych Exam?

Accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui has twice refused to meet with his court-appointed psychiatrist. Moussaoui wants to represent himself at trial but must pass a psychiatric exam before the judge allows him to do so. How can he refuse to meet with the psychiatrist? And what happens if he continues to do so?

You can always disobey a judge. If Moussaoui won’t meet with the psychiatrist, Judge Leonie Brinkema can’t shackle him to a table and force him to talk. We call that torture. The judge could hold Moussaoui in contempt of court. But that’s unlikely—and pointless. He’s already behind bars.


Most likely, Moussaoui’s obstinacy will cost him his right to represent himself. Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Faretta v. California, the judge must be sure the defendant’s decision to fire his lawyer is made “knowingly and intelligently.” Without a psychiatric evaluation, Judge Brinkema may not be able to make that call—in which case she could order Moussaoui’s lawyers to stay involved.

Faretta also says a defendant can lose the right to self-representation through “serious and obstructionist” misconduct. Moussaoui’s behavior might already qualify; keeping it up only hurts him more.

Judge Brinkema has further warned that she might ship Moussaoui to a federal prison specializing in psychiatric evaluation. That examination would have a different aim: to assess whether he’s even fit to stand trial. If he stonewalls there, too, the judge can use other evidence to decide whether Moussaoui is fit for trial, including witness testimony.

Next question?

Explainer thanks Robert Weisberg at StanfordLawSchool.