The role of competency to stand trial in mental health courts

Kathleen P Stafford, Dustin B Wygant
Behavioral Sciences & the Law 2005, 23 (2): 245-58
Concerns have been raised in the literature about the competency to stand trial and competency to make treatment decisions of defendants referred to mental health courts. However, there is little information reported about the evaluation and prevalence of incompetence, characteristics of incompetent mental health court defendants, and disposition of mentally ill defendants too disturbed to be diverted from the criminal justice system through mental health courts. This study reports on the 85 potential mental health court defendants referred for trial competency evaluations during the first three years of operation of the Akron Ohio Mental Health Court. Of the 80 defendants who could be located for evaluation, 77.5% were found incompetent, and 53% of the incompetent defendants were not restored to competence even after an average of 49 days of treatment in a state psychiatric hospital. The implications of these findings in terms of the diversion potential of mental health courts for the severely mentally ill are discussed.

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