Competence to Stand Trial and the Insanity Defense


Competence to Stand Trial and the Insanity Defense


























Competence to Stand Trial and the Insanity Defense

Forensic psychology is among the newest specialties in psychology that deals with assessing the mental behavior and process of an individual by utilizing scientific tests and techniques that compare to the discovery of crime. The expertise is normally used in high profile cases including serial murder and murder cases. However, when presented to evaluate the state of mind of criminals, they are faced with various controversial issues such as determining whether the accused is fit or unfit to stand trial before court. Additionally, forensic psychologists have to determine whether the suspect committed their offences when they were in their right state of mind or whether they were insane. Arresting an insane person is against the law while letting free a criminal is equally not right. The controversial issues presented in the judicial system require the expertise of forensic psychologists before presenting a suspect before court and ruling their actions. Analysis of peer-reviewed articles pertaining to competency to stand trial and the insanity defense as well as the class readings presents the mental competence of a defendant in court.

Evaluation is one of the most important aspects when determining the competency of a suspect to stand trial. The initial steps involve a series of questions. These questions refer to the specific place, time, their actions and reactions after committing the crime. The response presented by the defendant is potentially important in determining the sanity of a criminal. This is because a forensic psychologist is able to evaluate their response and determine whether they are insane or sane. The competency-to-stand-trial (CST) evaluation test is made utilizing several forensic psychology tools.  The tools involve comparing the responses against other competency measures that depend on conventional measures of validity and reliability. It is from these assessments that the jury can decide whether they may accuse someone.

By definition, competence refers to the defendant’s potential to function knowingly and meaningfully during legal proceedings. The ideology behind this point is that individuals who are found to be mentally unfit due to their lack of understanding of the purpose of proceedings do not have to be convicted before the court of law. This stage takes part before the trial process begins and it is used throughout the hearing process. This is because some defendants can be found guilty of their criminal charges and still plead innocent with a plea reason of insanity. Therefore, forensic psychology is used continually throughout the judicial process. Additionally, it is the duty of forensic psychologists to determine whether the defendants are competent with medication or incompetent without it (Costanzo & Krauss, 2012). Normally, they are given medication to restore their sanity. Nonetheless, if a defendant cannot regain sanity through medication, forensic psychologists often prescribe hospitalization of the individual over a long period while they are deprived off their liberty. Determining the sanity of an individual is difficult and therefore, any criminals whether in their right minds or insane, have to receive some form of confinement.

According to Frierson et. al., (2002) there are various aspects put into consideration before presenting a defendant to court and finding them guilty. First, the defendant has to recognize the penalty of pleading guilty, they should have the capabilities of making reasonable decisions and understand the options they have. Moreover, they have to reveal their capabilities regarding acknowledging the elements of the adversary organism, their situation as a defendant and informing their attorney on relevant information pertaining to the case. These three form the foundational competence. For the decisional competence, the defendant has to think rationally in the scope of the provided alternatives, appreciating the decisions made the ability to make sound choices and most importantly understand the decisions relevant in the case such as waiving the trial and pleading guilty.

Progressively in Yeo’s (2008) article, he explains that insanity and competence are not similar. Competence does not refer to the psychological state of the defendant at the time of crime but only the present capabilities of criminals. A defendant might have broken the law while in his right state of mind and still becoming incompetent during the trial period. The defense for insanity is available for all crimes and therefore, a general defense. When the forensic psychologists find a defendant insane, the jury gives and directs a special verdict commonly referred as not guilty due to insanity. Despite the insane defendant’s capabilities of being released, their freedom of liberty is confined to medical institutions. Their institutionalization often lasts their lifetime since the jury claims that they are unfit to live in the society with others.

The forensic psychology area of study involves identifying whether a defendant is fit to fit the jury or not in terms of their sanity. There are cases where defendants commit crimes when they are not in their right minds. At such instances, they cannot be found guilty but confined in mental institutions. Additionally, there are competency issues raised at every stage of the criminal judicial process running from the before the trial process begins up to the end. In each of these stages, the expertise of forensics psychologists is required in order to present a fair ruling to the defendants.



Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2012). Forensic and legal psychology: Psychological science applied to law. New York, NY: Worth Publishers.

Frierson, R. L., Shea, S. J., & Shea, M. E. C. (2002). Competence-to-Stand-Trial Evaluations of Geriatric Defendants. Journal- American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 30, 2, 252-256.

Yeo, S. (2008). The Insanity Defence in the Criminal Laws of the Commonwealth of Nations. Singapore Journal of Legal Studies, 241-263.









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