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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Assessing competency competently: toward a rational standard for competency-to-stand-trial assessments

Grant H Morris, Ansar M Haroun, David Naimark
Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law 2004, 32 (3): 231-45
15515910
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 focused on whether the defendant's thinking was rational, a second that focused on whether the defendant's behavior was rational, and a third that did not use the word "rational." The objective was to discover whether forensic examiners would distinguish among 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. In addition, in answering one vignette, the respondents were 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.

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