Throughout history mental health has played an important role in the legal system, specifically regarding matters of competency and sanity. Issues concerning competency to stand trial have grown throughout history and cover a large breadth of topics including, but not limited to: predictor variables, malingering, mental retardation, competency standards in execution, and the validity of competency assessments. The issue of competency in legal proceedings is rooted in English Common Law as early as the 17th century (CITE- ALawPsych&pol). Common law states that the standard for competency to stand trial requires that the defendant understand the proceedings against him or her and be able to assist in their defense (Cite-lackinsight) William Blackstone alluded to competency to stand trial in his Commentaries on the Laws of England (1783), which questioned the abilities of mentally impaired defendants, then considered to be “mad”, to plead with the “caution that he ought” (CITE-). The inability for a defendant to exercise caution goes against their right to a fair trial because they cannot render decisions necessary to creating a defense. Although it was realized early on that competency is an important matter preceding trial, a legal standard for competency was not defined until 1960 in the case of Dusky v. United States.
The decision resulting from Dusky v. United States (1960) gave rise to the “Dusky standard”, which works to prevent an unfair trial by allowing a defendant to be deemed incompetent if he does not meet the standards for competence. Once deemed incompetent to stand trial, the defendant may be restored back to competence and subsequently referred back to court for a trial setting. Many variables affect whether a defendant is deemed competent or incompetent to stand trial, as well as whether the defendant is able to be restored to competency. This paper will examine the variables involved in competency decisions, specifically how legal, clinical, and sociodemographic variables affect competency to stand trial and restoration to competency decisions.
Variables Affecting Competency to Stand Trial
It is important to know and understand not only the process of assessing competency, but also the decision makers involved in the competency to stand trial process. Additionally, it is equally important to know the legal cases involved in defining competency in order to accurately assess the construct for which predictor variables are being sought. The ability to deduce what legal (legal knowledge, severity of offense), sociodemographic (age, race), and clinical (diagnosis, severity of diagnosis) variables affect competency and restoration decisions could give way to expediting the process of competency assessment. Knowing the variables involved in competency decisions may also unearth any potential bias present in the decision making process.
Legal and criminal variables involved in competency decisions...