Deciding factors for judges when ruling competency to stand trial




Jennings, Madison

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When the issue of competence to stand trial is raised, those who make legal decisions, such as judges and courts, rely on forensic evaluator assessments to determine criminal and civil competencies at the time of the alleged offense (Laxton, 2018). Although judges typically rule with the recommendation of the evaluator, Boccaccini and colleagues (2012) report up to 21% of the time, judges may overrule a recommendation. The current study examined the history of competency to stand trial (CST) evaluations, principles for evaluators, and deciding factors for judges when ruling competency or incompetency to stand trial. Additionally, it compared judges’ responses to evaluators’ responses if the two groups find the same factors important. Judges and evaluators were recruited by email and asked to complete a survey that asked them standard demographic questions, if they have ever overruled an evaluator’s recommendation, why they overruled, and what information stands out on report or during an assessment. Judges considered clinical diagnosis the most important factor CST evaluations, never or rarely went against an evaluator’s recommendation, but if they did it was due to additional information being available at the time of decision or the quality of the report. Evaluators consider mental status or behavior during the interview the most important factor and rated all federal standards for competency to stand trial as important to very important.