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Adult Courts

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Psychological evaluations are requested by judges and attorneys in criminal courts to answer questions about a defendant’s capacities, or competencies, to participate in various steps of the legal process.

Some of these evaluations include competency to proceed, waive Miranda rights, waive counsel, and receive involuntary treatments.

In addition, courts may request evaluations regarding the person’s competency to be sentenced and to be executed, sanity at the time of an offense, and mitigating factors.


What is Competency?

Competency refers to a person’s mental capacity to understand and participate in a legal process. This includes the person’s capacity to assist their lawyer and participate in their own defense.

The most common competency evaluation in criminal courts is the competence to proceed evaluation, also called competence to stand trial.

In nearly all cases, if a person is found incompetent the expert is also asked to inform the court about the types of treatments, training or interventions that could “restore” the person to competence.

This is a complex question which requires knowledge of the specific information about the person’s conditions as well as the clinically accepted treatments for the conditions, estimates about the length of time to complete treatment, and the likelihood that the interventions would result in restorability.

A judge often orders the competence evaluations.

In the order, the judge appoints a qualified mental health expert, often a psychologist, to perform the evaluation and provide a written report to the court.  In some cases, an attorney may request a private evaluation for their client to help inform decisions regarding their defense of the client.

The expert may be asked to testify in court regarding the competence issue at hand.


Several types of competence evaluations are described further below.

Competence to Proceed

The competence to proceed question may be raised by a judge, the defense or the prosecution when there is sufficient evidence presented.

The focus of this type of evaluation is on the “here and now” status of a person’s mental, emotional, or intellectual state that might impact their capacity to understand and participate in the legal system and court proceedings in their own defense.

The basis for nearly all competence to proceed evaluations in U.S. courts is the ruling from the landmark Dusky v. United States case in 1960.

As a result of this case, the definition of competence is whether the accused has “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and whether he has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him.”


Competence to Waive Miranda

The evaluation of competence to waive (or to understand) Miranda rights specifically addresses a defendant’s understanding of their rights at the time of an arrest. A related question is whether a person had the competence to confess after waiving Miranda rights.

As with the competence to proceed question, a judge or the defense or prosecution attorney may raise this question and request further evaluation depending on the circumstances and evidence in a case.


Competence to be Executed

The competence to be executed question involves an evaluation of a prisoner to determine whether the person has a mental condition that would render him or her unable to understand the death penalty sentence.


Competence to Waive Counsel

The federal constitution gives defendants the legal right to self-representation, or to proceed pro se, without the benefit of legal counsel.

If the defendant’s competency to waive counsel is called into question, a judge may order an evaluation to assure that the defendant has the mental capacities to proceed in their own defense and has made the decision knowingly and voluntarily.


What is Insanity?

Insanity is a legal term, not a psychological definition, which refers to a person’s ability to determine right from wrong at a certain point in time. Evaluations for criminal responsibility focus on the “there and then” status of a person’s mental, emotional, or intellectual state at the time a crime was committed.

This evaluation helps to answer the question of whether a person with a mental illness was responsible for their actions. The insanity defense, also called Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI), may be raised by the court, defense, or prosecution.

Despite much publicity regarding these types of cases, the insanity defense is not often raised in courts throughout the U.S. due to a low rate of success. While the legal test for insanity varies by state, Florida courts follow the M’Naghten rule.

The burden of proof rests with the defendant who must provide clear and convincing evidence of insanity.


Other Evaluations for Adult Courts

Presentence evaluations occur after the defendant is found guilty but before a sentence is given.

These evaluations assist the court in answering questions such as the types of facilities that might best meet the defendant’s mental health needs, recommendations for leniency or reduced sentences, and potential risks for future violent or criminal sexual conduct.

Mitigation evaluations address factors that may have been involved at the time of the commission of a crime such as mental illness, intellectual disability, medical problems, cognitive factors, abuse, and other psychosocial factors.

The evaluation offers information to the court which may support a more lenient sentence.

Hope Counseling Center psychologists have extensive experience in providing evaluations in these types of cases.

For more information about adult evaluations, please contact Hope Counseling at our Lakeland location, 863-709-8110 or email – today!