Assessing Competency Competently: Toward a Rational Standard for Competency-to-Stand-Trial Assessments
16 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2004
This article reports on a survey of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists who read two case study vignettes and assessed whether each criminal defendant was competent to stand trial using three differently worded standards of competency - one that focuses on whether the defendant's thinking is rational, a second that focuses on whether the defendant's behavior is rational, and a third that does not use the word "rational." The objective was to discover whether forensic examiners would distinguish between the standards (i.e., find the defendant competent under one standard but not under another) or whether they would find the defendant competent under all standards or incompetent under all standards. In responding to both vignettes, more than three-fourths of all respondents either found the defendant competent under all three standards or incompetent under all three standards. Additionally, in answering one vignette, the respondents divided almost equally in deciding whether the defendant was competent to stand trial. These results are analyzed and respondents' comments are discussed. The article concludes with specific proposals to improve competency to stand trial assessments.
Keywords: law and medicine, law and psychiatry, criminal law
JEL Classification: K00, K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation