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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 76628 Find in a Library
Title: Competency To Stand Trial - Discussion
Journal: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences  Volume:347  Dated:(June 20, 1980)  Pages:38-43
Author(s): T R Litwack
Date Published: 1980
Page Count: 6
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: Issues related to a defendant's competency to stand trial are examined in this discussion of four papers presented at a 1979 symposium on forensic psychology and psychiatry held by the New York Academy of Sciences.
Abstract: The finding that police officers regularly bring assaultive individuals whom they believe to be mentally ill to hospitals rather than to prison is disquieting in that it means that such individuals may be released simply to lower a hospital ward's population or because they are difficult to manage. Studies indicating that released psychiatric ward patients have higher arrest rates than the general population should be interpreted cautiously since they may be based on limited samples. The observation that a particular intelligence quotient or psychiatric diagnosis does not render a defendent competent or incompetent is valid. For example, one defendant was found competent to stand trial even though he harbored the delusion that his victims had only feigned dying. Similarly, courts have recognized that a defendant's claimed amnesia at the time of a crime may not render the defendant incompetent to stand trial. Defendants are competent if they are capable of understanding the nature of the charges and proceedings, of rationally considering the available options, of cooperating with their attorneys in their own defense, and of maintaining these functions and self-control during a trial. Testifying psychiatrists and judges are often ignorant of these criteria, however, and defendants are often improperly declared incompetent. When psychologists are well-trained regarding competency, their judgments' reliability is over 90 percent. Data upon which a defendant's current level of understanding and rationality can be judged are easy to obtain. Traditional psychological tests have no role to play except to help determine malingering. The difficult problems for mental health professionals involve determining which defendants are feigning incompetency and determining which defendants will be unable to proceed through a trial without suffering an incapacitating breakdown. Current tools are inadequate for predicting which presently competent defendants who are disturbed will be unable to undergo the stress of proceeding to trial. Defendants in these cases should be given the benefit of the doubt and found incompetent. If plea bargaining is probable, the effect of the trial would be irrelevant. The feigning of incompetence is rare because it is rarely in the defendant's interest to do so. Finally, because a witness's memory of an event is significantly influenced by the manner of questioning, many trials' outcomes may hinge upon who questions the witness first. Seven references are listed. For the papers discussed in this article, see NCJ 70532-34.
Index Term(s): Competency to stand trial; Medical evaluation; Mentally ill offenders; Psychological evaluation
Note: Delivered at a symposium entitled Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry, held on September 26-28, 1979
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