Assessing Competency Competently: Toward a Rational Standard for Competency-to-Stand-Trial Assessments

16 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2004  

Grant H. Morris

University of San Diego, School of Law - Professor of Law Emeritus

Ansar M. Haroun

University of California, San Diego

David Naimark

University of California, San Diego

Abstract

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

Morris, Grant H. and Haroun, Ansar M. and Naimark, David, Assessing Competency Competently: Toward a Rational Standard for Competency-to-Stand-Trial Assessments. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2004. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=590983

Grant Harold Morris (Contact Author)

University of San Diego, School of Law - Professor of Law Emeritus ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States

Ansar M. Haroun

University of California, San Diego ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0502
United States

David Naimark

University of California, San Diego ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0502
United States

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