Fitness to stand trial: learning from the Ezra Pound saga

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The famous United States poet and literary figure Ezra Pound (1885–1972) was indicted for treason in the District of Columbia after being extradited from Italy for participation during the Second World War in propaganda broadcasts on behalf of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. With his life at risk, he successfully pleaded that he was unfit to stand trial by reason of mental impairment. A review of the evidence given by the four psychiatrists and of the judge's charge to the jury casts doubt on the claim that the trial was politically directed to ensure that Pound was not executed. However, later diagnoses from St Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, after he was detained, suggest that his principal impairment may have been a personality disorder, perhaps with cyclothymic or bipolar traits, raising the issue of whether such a diagnosis should be sufficient for a finding of unfitness to stand trial.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-644
Number of pages20
JournalPsychiatry, Psychology & Law
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sep 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • bipolar disorder
  • capacity to communicate
  • capacity to give instructions to counsel
  • capacity to understand
  • competence
  • cyclothymic disorder
  • diagnostics
  • Ezra Pound
  • fitness to stand trial
  • mental illness
  • paranoia
  • pathography
  • personality disorder
  • political considerations

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