Competency to stand trial and sanity at time of offense evaluation can be a very stressful time for you, your family, and your legal team. Our goal is to offer the defendant and court a very comprehensive professional assessment to meet the legal requirements while at the same time conducting that evaluation with respect, comfort, and a very open mind.
What is a competency to stand trial evaluation? The goal of these evaluations is to determine if the defendant understands the legal system and the charges against them well enough to put together a reasonable defense with their legal team. That sounds like a very vague definition so let's break that down a little bit into its pieces. First, we assess to determine whether an individual can understand the violations of the law that they have been charged with. We will review the charges, their understanding of the charges, and the possible consequences they may have if convicted of them. Next, we assess whether or not the defendant understands the roles of the various people involved with the court. Those professionals include the Judge, the defense attorney, the prosecutor, the jury, and witnesses. We will review the defendant's understanding of each of those individuals’ roles within the legal system. Next, we examine the defendant's understanding of the basic legal process in the courtroom and the behavior that is expected of them in the courtroom. Lastly, were review the defendant’s perception of how they can best work with their attorney to create their defense.
What is the process of getting the competency to stand trial evaluation completed? The evaluation will include several parts. Initially there is a very detailed clinical interview to help me understand the defendant’s current mental status. What we want to understand is whether or not there are any mental health conditions that are interfering with the defendant’s ability to understand legal process that they are involved with. Those mental health issues may be schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorder, or one of many other mental health conditions. We will do a clinical interview to determine the presence of those symptoms and medical conditions. To confirm the presence of those mental health conditions, we also will use psychological testing. Psychological testing can be thought of as symptom checklists. They are instruments that help us gather data in a more detailed and very formal way. The testing is generally administered using a tablet or computer. The defendant’s responses on those tests are compared to other people matched to them based on certain demographic information. Those psychological tests will help us to confirm the presence and severity of the mental health symptoms they defendant may have.
Is outside or third-party information considered? Yes, we review collateral information. We refer to information supplied by other doctors, witnesses, and others as collateral or third-party information. We will often make requests for documents from mental providers who have seen the defendant previously. We will review any legal documents sent by the prosecutor's office for the defense team. We review this data to determine whether or not it suggests that the individual has a severe mental health condition, and whether that mental health condition is incapacitating their ability to comprehend what is going on in the courtroom.
Does just having a mental health condition mean that that the defendant is incapacitated or insane? No. Just having a mental health condition or diagnosis does not mean someone is incapacitated or insane. It's more of a two-step process. The first step is deciding whether or not someone has a significant mental health condition. The second step is to determine whether or not that mental health condition interferes with their ability to comprehend what is going on around them. For example, you could be experiencing depression but still be fully aware of everything that is going on around you. In contrast, you could be experiencing severe depression with memory loss, hallucinations, concentration issues, and delusions which would then incapacitate your ability to understand what is going on around you. That is why there assessments are to determine whether the defendant has a mental health condition and whether that mental health condition is incapacitating the defendant’s competencies.
What is a sanity at time of offense evaluation? This is the term that professionals use when speaking of the insanity defense. In conducting these evaluations, we use a fairly similar process to the one noted above regarding competency assessments. We will do a detailed clinical interview, administer comprehensive psychological testing, and review third-party or collateral data. However, the goal of these types of evaluations is significantly different. The goal of this evaluation is to determine if at the time of the alleged offense was the defendant suffering from a mental health condition that incapacitated their ability to understand the nature or consequences of their actions, understand the differences between right or wrong, or to control their actions. During this type of assessment, we will go through extensive details regarding the defendant’s life at the alleged time of the offense. We will review the day before the event, the day of the event, and often we will review the day after the event. Our goal is to understand not just what was going on their life, but also to understand exactly what they were thinking at each moment in the alleged criminal offense.
How can I best prepare for my competency or sanity evaluation? There are a couple of things that a defendant can do to prepare for these assessments. First, attempt to have a good night sleep prior to assessment and eat a good breakfast. Our evaluations are long and can be exhausting. We offer our examinees coffee, water, and often lunch because evaluations take most of the day. However, to be best prepared cognitively so you can be your sharpest, try to sleep well the night before and do not skip breakfast. Second, be prepared to be as honest as possible during your assessment process. It is normal to be somewhat defensive and on guard when going through legal matters. However, during this type of psychological assessment and psychological testing, we specifically assess for defensiveness and honesty. The psychological tests that we use have scales that notice when people are attempting to manipulate or control the testing results. These tests are very good at identifying people who are attempting to fake mental symptoms. If the defendant does this during the assessment process, it appears that they are specifically lying and attempting to put one over on the court. Therefore, we strongly recommend that the defendants be as honest as possible throughout the clinical interview process and psychological testing.
At our office, we strive to treat everybody with respect and dignity. During the defendant’s evaluation, we will attempt to answer all questions. We conduct our evaluations in a very comfortable setting. Our office is much more like a living room than a traditional office. Most defendants report having had a fairly comfortable day going through their evaluation in our private office setting. We cannot guarantee that a defendant will like the results of our assessments. However, we can guarantee that will strive to make this as comfortable of a process as possible.
Questions? Are You Ready to Schedule Your Competency/Sanity Assessment?
To schedule your appointment with Dr. Lombard, please call our office at (260) 459-2900 or email us at [email protected]. When you call our office, we will need to know what attorney you are working with and your time frame for completing this review. Dr. Lombard looks forward to working with you.