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Assessing Competence to Stand Trial

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1 Assessing Competence to Stand Trial
Ryan Hochel Radford University

2 Competence Refers to a defendant’s capacity to function meaningfully and knowingly in a legal proceeding. Idea is that if someone cannot understand the nature and purpose of criminal proceedings, they should not continue. Competence applies at every stage in the criminal justice process, but is most often raised in pretrial hearings. A defendant can be found competent and still plead not guilty by reason of insanity

3 Why is Competence Important?
Defendants need to be able to understand the charges against them so that they can meaningfully participate in the criminal justice system Punishment is only morally acceptable if the people understand why they are being punished The fairness and dignity of the adversary system requires that defendants be able to defend themselves against the charges brought against them

4 Competence to Stand Trial Dusky v. United States (1960)
Defined as, “a sufficient present ability to consult with one’s attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding, and a rational, as well as factual understanding of the legal proceedings against him.”

5 Competent to Plead Guilty
Requires that defendants: Understand the consequences of pleading guilty Understand the alternatives they face Have the ability to make a reasoned choice among the alternatives Most states use the Dusky standard in determining competence to plead guilty. However, some psychologists believe a separate standard should be applied.

6 Criminal Justice Mental Health Standard
Created as a compromise by the American Bar Association in 1989 No plea of guilty should be accepted from a defendant who is mentally incompetent A finding that a defendant is competent to stand trial should be sufficient to establish the defendant’s competence to plead guilty

7 Criminal Justice Mental Health Standard
The test for determining mental competence to plead guilty should be based on “whether the defendant has sufficient present ability to consult with the defendant’s lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and whether, given the nature and complexity of the charges and the potential consequences of conviction, the defendant has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings relating to a plea of guilty.”

8 Adjudicative Competence
Often used to replace competence to stand trial and competence to plead guilty. Describes many abilities defendants must possess in criminal legal proceedings. Two components - foundational component - decisional component

9 Foundational Competence Three Requirements
The ability to understand the basic elements of the adversary system (prosecutor, judge, jury) The ability to inform their attorney of information relevant to the case The ability to understand their situation as a criminal defendant

10 Decisional Competence Four Requirements
The ability to understand information relevant to the decisions they must make (pleading guilty, waiving a jury trial) The ability to think rationally about alternatives involved in the decisions The ability to appreciate decisions that need to be made in their best interest The ability to make a choice among the available defense strategies

11 Competence and Insanity
They are not the same thing. A defendant may be found psychotic, mentally ill, or mentally retarded but still competent and able to stand trial. Competence only refers to their present abilities, not their psychological state at the time of the crime, as is the case with the insanity defense.

12 Evaluating Competency
After a competence examination is ordered by a judge, a psychologist or psychiatrist typically conducts the evaluation. Is concerned with the legal definition of competence, not the psychological definition. Pivotal question is if a mental illness is present, does is impair the defendant’s ability to participate in legal proceedings in a meaningful way and cooperate with their attorney?

13 Evaluating Competency
Depends on the case: - Competence standards may be less strict in a straightforward case. - Standards are typically more stringent in a complex trial. Most common way of evaluating competence is through various psychological tests.

14 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence

15 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Competency Screening Test (CST)
22 item sentence completion test Often used as initial screening tool Scores range from 2 (competent answer) to 0 (incompetent answer) Scores less than 20 suggest possible incompetence to stand trial

16 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Competency Screening Test (CST)
Criticized for having an extremely positive view of the legal process. Produces large number of false positives, labeling defendants who are competent as incompetent. Has high interrater reliability and internal consistency with rater training

17 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Competency Screening Test (CST)
Examples - When I go to court, the lawyer will: - The way a court trial is decided: - If the jury finds me guilty, I: - While listening to the witnesses testify against me: - When the jury hears my case, they will:

18 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Competency Assessment Instrument (CAI)
A structured one hour interview that assesses 13 functions relevant to competency for standing trial Scores range from 1 (total incapacity) to 5 (total capacity), Concerned if several scores are 3 or less Shown to have 90% agreement with competency decisions made after extensive hospital evaluations.

19 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Competency Assessment Instrument (CAI)
Example - Appraisal of role of: defense counsel, prosecuting attorney, judge, jury, defendant, witnesses. - The defendant should be able to identify the basic role of each of these players. For example: the prosecutor as foe, defense attorney as friend, judge as neutral, and the jury as the deciders of guilt or innocence.

20 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Interdisciplinary Fitness Interview (IFI)
Semi-structured interview 5 items assessing the defendant’s abilities in specific legal areas Evaluates 11 categories of psychopathological symptoms Rated from 0 to 2 describing the degree of capacity demonstrated Each item is assigned the weight it played in determining overall competence

21 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Georgia Court Competency Test (GCCT)
21 items that represent three dimensions General courtroom knowledge (Example: the jobs of the judge and lawyer) Courtroom layout (Example: where the judge and jury are located in a courtroom) Specific legal knowledge (Example: how to interact with defense counsel)

22 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence Georgia Court Competency Test (GCCT)
Isn’t as good as measuring non-cognitive abilities such as ability to cooperate Is significantly correlated with a number of independent competency measures

23 Tests Used to Evaluate Competence MacArthur Competence Assessment Tool-Criminal Adjudication (MacCAT-CA) Contains hypothetical situations that the defendant has to comment on Includes information on four abilities - understanding charges and trails - appreciation of relevant information - reasoning with information during decision making - making a choice

24 Competency Evaluations
30, 000 defendants are evaluated each year to determine if they are IST. About 70% of defendants evaluated are found competent to stand trial. Defense attorneys question their clients’ competence in 15% of felony cases (compared to half that in misdemeanor cases). For every 1 defendant a jury finds not guilty by reason of insanity, 100 are found incompetent to stand trial.

25 Characteristics of those found Incompetent
Usually single males Minorities Low levels of education and intelligence Unemployed Previous involvement in legal and mental health systems Exhibits symptoms of current serious mental disorder Charged with more serious crimes

26 After the Evaluation Competent to Stand Trial
Defendants who found to be competent proceed to trial. If the crime is not serious the charges may be dropped for those found incompetent.

27 After the Evaluation Incompetent to Stand Trial
Defendants who were found IST typically go to a mental health institution. At the institution they are treated for restoration of competence. If the treatment to restore competence is successful, the defendant will then stand trial. If it is determined that competence may never be restored, many defendants remain in mental health institutions despite a law prohibiting indefinite confinement (Jackson v. Indiana, 1972).

28 After the Evaluation Incompetent to Stand Trial
Many states limit restoration treatment to 6 months to 1 year. Permanently incompetent defendants could be committed to a hospital through involuntary civil commitment proceedings. An alternative suggested by ABA is to have a provisional trial. If found not guilty, the defendant is acquitted, if found guilty, he or she would be subject to some special type of commitment where they would be securely handled.

29 How is Competence Restored?
Usually through psychoactive medication Defendants who received treatment involving videos and instructions on courtroom procedures in addition to medication were found more likely to be competent (43%) upon re-evaluation than those only receiving medication (15%) (Siegel & Elwork, 1990).

30 Other Competence Issues
Competence to confess Competence to waive the right to an attorney Competence to refuse the insanity defense Competence to be sentenced and punished Competence of juveniles Competence with medication, incompetent without Amnesia and competence

31 Case Study Competent or Not?

32 The Case of Jamie Sullivan
Sullivan was a 24 year old store clerk charged with arson, burglary, and murder. He was mentally retarded with an IQ between 65 and 68. His attorney thought he might be incompetent to stand trial, so he was examined by a psychologist.

33 Psychologist’s Interview with Sullivan
Q. What are you charged with? A. Burning down that store and stealing from Ricky (the store owner who was killed in the fire) Anything else? They say I killed Ricky too. What could happen to you if a jury found you guilty? A. Electric chair, but God will watch over me.

34 Psychologist’s Interview with Sullivan
Q. What does the judge do at a trial? He tells everybody what to do. If somebody told a lie about you in court, what would you do? Get mad at him Anything else? A. Tell my lawyer the truth.

35 Psychologist’s Interview with Sullivan
What does your lawyer do if you have a trial? Show the jury I’m innocent. How could he do that best? Ask questions and have me tell them I wouldn’t hurt Ricky. I liked Ricky.

36 Psychologist’s Interview with Sullivan
What does the prosecutor do in your trial? Try to get me found guilty. Who decides if you are guilty or not? A. That jury.

37 Sullivan’s Competency Results
Sullivan’s mental retardation limited his understanding of the proceedings. However, he did understand the nature of the charges against him, he could assist his attorney, and he understood the general purpose and nature of the trial. He was found competent to stand trial. He was convicted on all charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.

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