Module 4 Assignment 1/Competency vs. Insanity
In a minimum of 300 words, compare and contrast the differences between the psycholegal issues of competency and insanity (also known as criminal responsibility):
Briefly identify the legal standard used to determine competency through an evaluation. What psycholegal questions need to be addressed?
Briefly identify the legal standard used to determine insanity through an evaluation. What psycholegal questions need to be addressed?
Does a mentally ill individual need to be either competent or insane, or can a person be both? Why or why not?
Comment on whether someone who is not competent to stand trial should be forced to take medications to become competent in order to face full legal penalties for his or her crimes.
Provide examples and rationales. Follow APA guidelines for writing and citing text.
By Friday, June 23, 2017, post your responses to this Discussion Area.
Through Wednesday, June 28, 2017, respond to at least two of your classmates’ posts. While responding, compare the similarities and differences between what you have constructed and what your classmates have.
In Module 4, you will learn about competency to stand trial and insanity, which is also referred to as criminal responsibility or not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI).
In the previous modules, you learned how to evaluate and select the appropriate personality tests to use in your forensic assessment. In this module, you will turn your attention to the use of vocational testing in the forensic setting. As you have learned earlier, intelligence, organic, and educational factors can all contribute to criminal behavior and require attention in assessments. Thorough evaluations of such deficits are important in treatment planning, if treatment is recommended, and in making recommendations to the court or third parties to ensure appropriate punishment or rehabilitative efforts during sentencing.
Vocational testing measures the ability to perform certain tasks related to specific job descriptions. It can also explore a person’s occupational interests and determine the types of work most suitable for that individual. This is important in forensic assessments because employment rehabilitation is often recommended in sentencing. In addition, mental health and substance use treatment plans may include vocational rehabilitation for offenders. It is common for community mental health centers to work in conjunction with vocational rehabilitation facilities to increase the likelihood of a smooth transition from custody to community living for clients.
• Explain the major methods and instruments in forensic assessment and apply the use of those methods and instruments to appropriate forensic client populations and relevant decision points in criminal and civil legal proceedings.
• Identify and differentiate the diagnostic and legally-defined offender categories that are commonly assessed in forensic practice including DSM-5 disorders, organic syndromes, the mentally disordered offender, dangerousness, the potential recidivist, and pre-release inmates and patients.
• Identify and provide a brief description of how it might affect your findings if any potential issues with offender behaviors associated with malingering and deception exist.
An appropriate diagnosis will bring about the best treatment for clients. Vocational testing can influence diagnoses and offer insights into the needs and abilities of the clients.
In terms of the functioning of the clients, these types of tests can offer insights into exceeding what can be gleaned from an interview and personality testing, and they can be crucial elements in the assessment process for several reasons. For example, there might be a case of a client being referred for an assessment to rule out malingering and to determine if there is possible feigning of psychotic symptoms. This presentation is common among sociopaths attempting to claim the presence of psychosis for secondary gain such as leniency in sentencing or securing of disability benefits. Neuropsychological testing may indicate the presence of an organic etiology for both the personality and believed feigned psychotic symptoms flagged by a personality test as indicators of malingering and feigning symptoms. In addition, these neuropsychological tests may uncover organic memory, attention, and concentration problems and aid in an accurate competence or incompetence designation.
In addition, vocational testing in forensic cases can supplement the findings of other psychological tests. They can help determine the fitness of clients to consider certain types of employment while taking into consideration relevant personality and neuropsychological factors. Evaluators need as many resources as they can find to accurately assess the clients, plan their treatment, and make recommendations to the court and third parties. The most comprehensive forensic assessment will include all the components discussed in the previous modules.
Assessment of Competency to Stand Trial
The issue of competency to stand trial came into legal prominence after a few instances of a mentally ill individual being tried for a crime and convicted in spite of his or her complete lack of awareness of what was going on around him or her in the courtroom and inability to provide any assistance on his or her own behalf in his or her defense. While our judicial system had rightfully tried and convicted these individuals, a moral issue of true justice was brought to light. It then became illegal to bring an individual to trial unless he or she was mentally and physically competent to sufficiently understand and participate in the legal proceedings.
In order for an individual to be found competent to stand trial, he or she must be able to participate in his or her own defense by communicating with his or her attorney or by communicating in the courtroom as appropriate. The individual must also be able to understand the nature of the proceedings, such as the adversarial process, the judge as a neutral party, etc.
In some cases, the symptoms of mental illness can prevent either of those circumstances from happening. For example, in some cases, individuals with a psychotic disorder have so much internal auditory stimuli that they experience what is called “thought blocking,” in which he or she is unable to verbalize his or her own thoughts due to the distractions brought on by auditory hallucinations. It would be about the equivalent of an average person trying to do his or her homework in the middle of a rock concert. Another symptom of mental illness that might interfere with one’s competency would be delusions as a delusional individual might believe that his or her lawyer is demonic and trying to possess him or her, which would undoubtedly prevent him or her from wanting to work with his or her attorney.
The issue of malingering seems inextricably linked with the issue of competency. Some offenders seem to think that pretending not to be competent to stand trial could somehow make them not culpable for their criminal behavior, which is actually not the case. Nonetheless, many offenders will try anything to attempt to escape the legal penalties for their crimes. Fortunately, a number of tests have been developed to accurately detect malingering.
However, sometimes the easiest way for an evaluator to begin to gauge whether someone is genuinely mentally ill or possibly malingering is to ask, “What would you like my report to say about your competency?” It is not uncommon for a mentally ill individual to state that he or she wants to be found competent so that he or she can go to court to express what he or she thinks and feels. For example, a mentally ill individual might sincerely want to be able to go to court so that he or she can profess to the judge and everyone in the courtroom that he or she is the messiah to attempt to convert members of the courtroom to his or her ways of religious thinking. Conversely, individuals who are malingering are not likely to readily express a desire to be found competent to stand trial since they are trying to feign mental illness to avoid trial. Therefore, the simple question regarding what the individual would like the findings in the report to indicate can help to shape the evaluator’s thoughts on whether mental illness or malingering is the prominent issue at hand.
An individual can be found competent to stand trial regardless of his or her level of prior impairment. In other words, prior functioning in regard to his or her mental illness neither negates nor determines his or her competency because legally, competency is only concerned with a person’s current level of functioning.
In cases where an individual is found not competent to stand trial, he or she is often required to take medications to attempt to restore his or her competency. In addition, offenders who are found not competent to stand trial for their crimes do not go free. They are not returned to the community. Instead, they remain in a secured psychiatric correctional facility until they are found competent or sometimes until they have served time longer than what they would have if they had been convicted of their crime.
The psycholegal issue of competency to stand trial is different from the psycholegal issue of insanity, which we will discuss in the next lecture.
The Assessment of Insanity
The psycholegal issue of insanity goes by different terminologies such as criminal responsibility and not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). All those terms refer to the same concept regarding whether an individual is impaired by mental illness at the time of his or her crime. NGRI applies when a person’s mental illness is at the root of his or her crime. For example, a mentally ill offender who burned down a house might qualify for status as legally insane if it can be rightfully demonstrated that the reason he or she burned down the house was to remove the demons within it due to his or her delusions.
Unlike competency to stand trial, insanity is a much more elusive concept for an evaluator to assess. The reason for the difficulty in assessing it is that insanity has to do with a person’s mental functioning at the time of his or her crime; yet, unless an evaluator is somehow magically able to appear immediately after a mentally ill offender has committed a crime to assess his or her level of functioning, it is simply not possible to assess a person’s mental state at the time of his or her crime with 100% certainty.
The only way to attempt to gauge a person’s mental functioning at the time of his or her crime is to assess the severity of his or her mental illness presently and to discuss with him or her what he or she was thinking at the time of his or her offense. Essentially, the psycholegal issue of insanity attempts to answer the question of whether the individual knew right from wrong at the time of his or her offense, which means that a person could have been mentally ill at the time of his or her crime but not necessarily qualify as being legally insane. An offender is only considered legally insane if his or her mental illness specifically interfered with his or her ability to know and understand that his or her criminal behavior was wrong. For example, consider the case of a mentally ill offender who shot at people because his or her internal auditory hallucinations were saying that those people were going to shoot him or her if he or she did not try to kill them first. NGRI might apply if it is clear that the symptoms of his or her mental illness substantially interfered with his or her ability to know at the time that what he or she was doing was wrong.
As you can imagine, because of the intricacies involved in declaring someone legally insane, it is extremely rare for this insanity to be attempted as a defense and even more rare for the court to declare an individual legally insane. Because insanity is so rarely used as a defense and it is so hard to assess, few tests actually measure it.
Just as with competency to stand trial, individuals who are found to be not legally sane, i.e., NGRI, also do not go free. Instead of being returned to the community, they serve out sentence in a psychiatric correctional facility that is typically equal to or longer than what they would have served in a regular prison setting. However, no amount of medications to attempt to restore sanity would result in the offender being retried for his or her crime because once an individual has been found NGRI for a crime, he or she cannot be tried for it a second time. So once an individual has been found NGRI for a crime, he or she can never be found guilty for it; though again, the legal defense of insanity is extremely hard to prove and for that reason rarely occurs.
The psycholegal issues of competency to stand trial and insanity or criminal responsibility are the prominent ones within the field of forensic psychology. The two are often confused with one another, and there are many misconceptions about both. The primary misconception about them is that either can easily be used by any well-functioning individual in order to avoid responsibility for his or her charges, which is not the case. Even before any testing occurs, it is often quite obvious to a forensic evaluator when an offender might be malingering.
Consider the case of an offender who is in his midthirties, with a long history of prior violent and/or sexual charges, and who worked in construction for a while in the community. The offender is now facing a charge as serious as murder and has begun making claims of “hearing things.” The offender is not likely making a genuine presentation. Anyone who was able to hold down a job prior to his or her charge, very likely did not have symptoms of mental illness that were significant enough to cause himself or herself to commit a crime. Therefore, an evaluator reviews all historical and collateral data of an offender when making a determination of competency or insanity. That information, in combination with the objective data from sophisticated psychological tests, can allow the evaluator to accurately discern whether the offender is truly mentally ill or malingering to attempt to avoid charges. Often, such attempts are completely in vain.
Jason Warren is a 21-year-old Caucasian male. He is attending his second year of community college with
an undeclared major. Jason lives at home with his mother and stepfather and is unemployed. He is an
average student and spends much of his time alone in his room interacting with people online. He has
never met his father and does not have a close relationship with his stepfather.
When Jason was a teenager, he became infatuated with a popular, young female celebrity named Amelia
Sloan and often daydreamed about meeting her. Encouraged by media reports of stars agreeing to attend
formal dances with everyday people, he decided to write to Amelia Sloan and ask her for a date. He
meticulously composed a letter explaining how he had followed her career, saw most of her films, and was
angered by the way the media seemed to treat her harshly. He indicated that his intentions were genuine
and felt that they would make the “perfect couple” at the upcoming dance.
During high school, Jason was teased frequently. He began to believe that being taunted would increase
Amelia’s desire to meet him. During his senior year, he inadvertently blurted out that he would be attending
the prom with Amelia, which only increased how much he was taunted by his classmates. He was mocked
even more when his lie was exposed after he did not attend his senior prom at all. He further resented his
mom for trying to convince him to go to his prom.
Jason never got over how he was treated by his classmates in high school, and he began fantasizing about
enacting revenge on the next year’s senior prom. In addition to continuing to write letters to Amelia, he
spent a lot of time following her on Facebook and Twitter. He once received a response from Amelia Sloan
of an autographed photograph signed, “Jason, LOL, Amelia.” Despite being disappointed, he felt that the
LOL was a genuine expression of her feelings and that if she only met him in person she would realize how
the two were meant to be together. His growing feelings made his desire for revenge even stronger. He
began to consider calling in a bomb threat to disrupt the prom and then progressed to thinking about
actually bombing it. He even fantasized about saving Amelia from the bomb explosion, if she were nearby.
He soon convinced himself that he needed to do more than bomb the senior prom to get her attention.
However, as the date approached for the next year’s senior prom, he became more depressed and
withdrawn and uncertain if the plan would succeed in winning Amelia’s affection. It was at this time that he
learned of the national political conventions that were to occur in his state later that year. He imagined
Amelia Sloan was a political activist, of sorts, and was supportive of the Democratic National Party. He felt
that if he could disrupt the Republican convention, he would win her admiration. He thought that it was even
likely that Amelia Sloan would be in town for the convention, saying to himself, “Who doesn’t like to party?”
He fantasized that perhaps the best strategy would be to kidnap a high-ranking Republican and request a
helicopter and meeting with Amelia Sloan as the ransom. As soon as she arrived, the two of them would
become soul mates, releasing the politician unharmed as a gesture of goodwill, and use the helicopter to
escape to Cuba, where they would not be extradited back to the US. She could continue her career from
Cuba and he would work as her manager.
In order to accomplish his plan, he obtained a chauffeur’s license and applied for work with one of the
limousine services. He hoped to shuttle dignitaries from the airport to the hotels. He thought that chances
would be good to get a high-ranking political figure and then he would be able to kidnap the individual and
request his ransom. He was sure to get publicity, perhaps the kind that Amelia enjoyed, and allow the two
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of them to appear to be folk heroes to all opponents of the oppressive government.
He was diligent in his work with the limo service and soon developed a reputation as a reliable and
courteous driver. He also tinkered with the cars and found ways to readily disable the inside door handles
and locks without a trace of tampering. As the convention approached, he suggested to his manager that
he would prefer to do airport runs since they were longer and resulted in better tips. Based on his reputation
as a solid driver, his manager agreed.
Two nights before the start of the convention he had his chance. He was called to pick up a party of four
from the airport and to shuttle them to a luxury hotel. He assumed that if they were staying at such a hotel,
they would be with the Republican Party. Most of the rooms were booked and it would be unlikely that this
group was not connected to the convention. Jason’s eagerness increased when his manager coincidentally
indicated that this was a “special fare.”
When he picked up his passengers, he requested that they place their electronic devices, including cell
phones, in a basket due to security at the hotel. He stated that this would get them through processing
quickly and joked that they could keep their shoes on. The passengers happily obliged and settled into the
limo. Jason engaged in small talk (e.g., “Are you here for the convention? …I don’t follow politics much,
where are you from?”) with the group. The man who appeared to be in charge boasted that he was a
senator and introduced the others as “supporters and delegates who are about to decide the fate of the
nation.” Jason did not recognize the man. Still, he took him at his word and mentioned that there was
complimentary champagne in the limo bar. Jason had supplied complimentary champagne that he laced
with benzodiazepines (“roofies”). He then shut the privacy partition and put on a pair of headphones. He
bobbed his head as if he was listening to music, but he was actually eavesdropping on the conversation.
He was happy to see that three of them were drinking the champagne, but noticed that one woman
appeared more focused on the trip. He continued along the interstate while going past the exit that would
have taken them to the hotel. As Jason continued on the highway, the attentive woman looked alarmed and
became agitated. Jason figured she probably thought she was going to be excessively billed for an
unnecessarily long trip.
Immediately before Jason exited the interstate towards his house, he removed the batteries from the cell
phones he collected, a skill he practiced so that he could accomplish it with one hand. His plan was to keep
the hostages in the limo, securely parked in his garage. Before he left the house, he set the thermostat to
68 degrees and opened the door going into the garage. He reasoned that it would remain cool enough for
them to spend a day or two in the car. He also turned up the stereo so neighbors would think he was “letting
loose” while his parents were out of town. He bought a freezer full of frozen pizza that he would feed to the
hostages while they waited for Amelia.