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Legal Competency for Trial

Updated on January 30, 2015

By now you have read the de-identified competency evaluation completed by Dr. Griffin. With the knowledge you have gained from the lecture and text, do you feel the competency evaluation was thorough and appropriately conducted? If not, what could have been done to improve the evaluation?

After reading the de-identified competency evaluation completed by Dr. Griffin, the module overview and the text I feel that the competency evaluation was thorough and appropriately conducted. The Competency to Stand Trial (CST) evaluations was conducted in order to determine Donny’s ability to stand trial. The CST was used to determine Donny’s ability to understand his current legal situation, the charges against him, the pleas available, the possible penalties if he is convicted, the roles of the judge, defense counsel, and prosecutor, his ability to communicate with his defense counsel, his ability to act appropriately during the trial, and his ability to make appropriate decisions about trial strategy (Melton, Petrila, Poythress, Slobogin, Lyons, & Otto, 2007). Knowing that the competency evaluation that Dr. Griffin conducted was designed to evaluate Donny’s ability to understand and perform a number of court-related functions and not evaluate his mental health, I feel that Dr. Griffin appropriately conducted the evaluation (Costanzo & Krauss, 2012).

During the evaluation Dr. Griffin questioned Donny on the incident that he was appear in court for. Dr. Griffin asked Donny about why he did what he did, what happened at court, and his mental ability to function. A Processing Speed Index (PSI), Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI), Perceptual Reasoning Index (PRI), Million Adolescent Personality Inventory (MAPI), and a Youth Self Report (YSR) were all completed by Donny (Griffin, 2009). The results of these reports and test were taken into consideration when Dr. Griffin declared Donny’s competent to stand trial (Griffin, 2009). Dr. Griffin did make certain to note that Donny’s attorney should be educated about Asperger’s so as to be aware of his difficulties in expressing himself and in establishing a typical ebb and flow of conversation (Griffin, 2009).

References

Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2012). Forensic and legal psychology: Psychological science

applied to law. New York, NY: Worth.

Griffin, C. (2009, October 17). Brief Psychological Report. Retrieved January 11, 2015.

Melton, G., Petrila,, J., Poythress, N., & Slobogin, C., Lyons, P., & Otto, R.

K. (2007). Psychological evaluations for the courts: A handbook for mental health

professionals and lawyers (third edition). New York: Guilford.

Brief Psychological Report

Name: Donny Quarrels
Date of Birth: October 12, 1995
Evaluation Date: October 17, 2009
Evaluation Methods: Wide Range Achievement Test, third edition, reading subtest
(WRAT3); Youth Self-Report (YSR); Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL);Millon Adolescent
Personality Inventory (MAPI); record review; child interview; parent interview.
Examiner: William M. Barter, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist
Connie Griffin, M.A., pre doctoral internship student

Background: Donny was referred for a psychological evaluation by Marsha Levin, Esq. to
determine if Donny is competent to be a part of the juvenile justice system.
Evaluation Objectives: The purpose of this evaluation is to make recommendations about
Donny’s competency in regards to the juvenile justice system.
Informed Consent: Prior to Donny’s initial meeting with Ms. Griffin, informed consent for
services was obtained from his grandmother, who is his legal guardian. She affirmed
understanding that the purpose of the evaluation was to assess Donny’s competency. She
affirmed that she understood the non-confidential nature of the evaluation if allegations of
child abuse or elder abuse arose in the course of the interview. Finally, she affirmed
understanding the risks and benefits of Donny undergoing such an evaluation. Concurrent
with the first session, the process was explained to Donny in language that he could
understand. He willingly gave his assent. After the evaluation process was explained to him,
he had no questions for Ms. Griffin. He was made aware that he could terminate the
evaluation at any time.

Parent Interview: Janet Downs, Donny’s grandmother, stated that she currently has custody
of Donny. She said that his birth mother is Christine Quarrels (37) and his birth father is
James Quarrels (38). Ms. Downs reported that Donny’s parents are no longer in a relationship
together. She stated that he sees his father every other Saturday and his mother more often.
She stated that Donny has a half brother, Paul (8), who lives with his birth father in
Massachusetts.
According to Ms. Downs Donny has lived with her since he was six years old. She stated that
his parents were living in Massachusetts and she moved to Maine. She reported that during
their separation she encouraged the parents to send Donny to stay with her. She stated that
both parents agreed and sent Donny to live with her. She described his parents as coming for
visits on opposite weekends from one another. Ms. Downs stated things were going fine and
then she had health issues that arose. She described a broken knee and a stroke so she had to
send Donny to live with his father. She reported that once she was feeling better she went to
visit Donny and found him to be unkempt, no sheets on his bed, and overall “he did not look
good.” She stated that Donny’s daycare called DSS in Massachusetts about the care he was
receiving from his parents. Ms. Downs reported that she also made a call to DSS because of
her concerns. She stated that there was no intervention by the state so she hired an attorney
and gained custody of Donny. She reported that he was not happy at first but over time, he felt
safe with her. Once he moved to Maine, he did not see or hear from his parents for some time.
She stated that she made sure he was in counseling. She reported that he was diagnosed with
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder at the age of three.
Ms. Downs reported that Donny never liked school. She stated that there were no behavior
problems. She stated that there were "small things" that began in grammar school. She
reported that after three years his father came to the door and wanted to visit Donny. She
stated that she allowed one visit and then talked with Donny’s team of providers. It was
agreed that with her supervision visits would occur. She stated that in the beginning, Donny’s
father was bringing presents and seemed to have made changes but she stated that it has
slowly returned to how it was prior to the separation. Ms. Downs stated that over this time
Donny’s mother had another child. She was supposed to come to Thanksgiving at one point
and did not show up. Ms. Downs reported that Donny’s mother was in an unhealthy
relationship. She ended up being hospitalized four times for bipolar disorder. Ms. Downs
reported that things seemed to get better for everyone. Donny’s parents were visiting; his
mother was doing well and in a halfway house. Ms. Downs reported that she then became ill
and as a result could not take care of Donny and lost her home.
Ms. Downs stated that Donny stayed with his mother while she was in the hospital. She stated
that after the hospitalization she moved in with her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend, and
Donny. She reported that the boyfriend was not healthy and had told Donny many things that
were not true. She stated that her daughter told her she could not stay there and drove her to a shelter and Donny remained in their care. She stated that she eventually found a new place to live and Donny came back to live with her. She reported that it took time for Donny to
become comfortable with her again. She stated that since they have moved into their current
home she has noticed huge improvements in Donny.

When asked about Donny’s developmental history Ms. Downs stated that his mother had a
good pregnancy with him. She stated that he was a healthy baby. She reported that he was
slightly delayed developmentally and received early intervention services. She stated that he
experienced physical abuse by his father and emotional abuse by bother parents. She reported
that she does not believe he has been sexually abused. She described him doing well in
school. She stated that he has good interactions with the children that live near their home.
She reported that he has one close friend at school. She stated that he is currently in
counseling and she is trying to get him a case manager. She reported that he has no history of
substance use.
When asked about his functioning Ms. Downs reported that he has trouble sleeping some
nights and that by Friday he is tired. She stated that his eating is not good due to his
medications. She reported that he is on Vyvanse 70mg per day and Abilify 5mg per day. She
stated that he has asthma and no allergies. She reported that he is a good child and is most
happy when he is “knee deep in grease working on engines.”
When asked to describe the incident that has led to his involvement with the juvenile justice
system she explained that it occurred in August 2009 and he admitted to doing it. She reported
that they were living in a place where the upstairs neighbor was an alcoholic and had
obsessive-compulsive disorder. She stated that the woman was very protective of the hallway
and the backyard. She stated that one evening the neighbor was screaming and yelling at
10pm. She reported that she did not call the police but told the neighbor that if it happened
again she would call the police. She stated that the neighbor was constantly throwing away
Donny’s stuff from the backyard. She reported that one day the police came to the home and
stated that they needed to speak with Donny. They went to school and asked him if he had
been burning holes in the wall of the hallway. Ms. Downs stated that initially he denied doing
this but then he stated that he did. She reported that the management company filed the
complaint against Donny.
When asked if he had been in trouble with the law for anything else she stated that about one
year ago Donny came home with a snow blower. She stated that about three months after he
had brought the snow blower home the police informed her that it was stolen. She stated that
he wrote a letter of apology and no charges were filed.
Child interview: Donny reported that it was Saturday October 2009 but he was unsure of the
actual date. He reported that he was in Lewiston, Maine for an evaluation. When asked why
he was being evaluated he stated, “due to court.” When asked to explain why he was going to
court he responded, “because of paint in the hallway.”
Donny demonstrated an understanding of the difference between a truth and a lie. He
appropriately described the difference between right and wrong. He also appropriately
explained what morals are.
When asked to describe the incidents that occurred he stated that he had used a pipe torch in
the hallway of the building he lived in to make bubbles on the wall. When asked why he did

this he explained that he was upset with the neighbor. He stated that the neighbor had been
throwing away his stuff and she was obsessed with the hallway. He reported that he made two
to three burns on the wall. He stated that he was not trying to burn the building down and had
not actually thought about that as a possibility. When asked what time of day it was when he
did this he stated that it was in the afternoon. He described getting into trouble for it one week
later. He stated that the neighbor lied and said she saw him. He stated that he knew no one
saw him do this. He described the police talking to him at school. He stated that he told them
he did it and then he went back to class. He reported that the police officer did not predict
what was going to happen next. He stated that stated he does not believe the police officer
knew what the consequences were going to be. He reported that he was given a time to go
back to the police station at that time the charges were filed. He stated that he was told he had
to go to court. He reported that at court he does not recall what he was told. He said that he sat
around at court for a while then he said he was not guilty, because that is what he lawyer told
him to say. He stated that his lawyer told him to say not guilty because she did not know
much about the case. He reported that he then went home and that is the only time he has been
in court.
When asked if he had been in trouble for anything else he stated no. When asked about the
snow blower he took he stated that he did not have to go to court. He said that they needed a
snow blower, and the man had ten, so he took one. He stated that the man did not know it was
missing for several months. He stated that the charges were dropped but he is unsure as to
why this occurred. When asked what he believes might happen if he has to go back to court
for burning the bubbles on the wall he stated that he is unsure.
When asked questions about functioning Donny reported that he does not hear voices. He
described no problems with racing thoughts or difficulty remaining focused on a topic. He
stated that he does not believe people are out to get him. He described understanding why he
was being charged for the incident. He reported that he attends counseling but has only been
to one session so far. He stated that he is in the eighth grade. He stated that he does ok and has passing grades. He reported that he does not participate in extra-circular activities. He said
that he enjoys working on stuff like cars and engines. He also enjoys hanging out with friends.
He described living with his grandmother, whom he describes as nice. He stated that he has
no trouble eating or sleeping.

Clinical Impressions: Donny arrived on time for the evaluation. He was appropriately dressed for the setting. His attire appeared to be clean and was neat. His person appeared to be clean. When he first arrived, he appeared agitated and was pacing around until his grandmother instructed him to sit. He had minimal eye contact throughout the assessment process. His voice and affect were flat. He appeared to express no sense of humor. At one point, he was asked a question that he appeared not to understand. His eyelids began to flutter and he appeared as if he was about to fall asleep then he produced a response that was not appropriate for the question. The question was rephrased and he answered it appropriately and returned to his original alert state. He was cooperative throughout the assessment. His grandmother was unsure if he would answer questions in an interview setting but he was responsive and polite. When he left, he stated goodbye to the examiner to which his grandmother expressed surprised pleasure as this is not typical behavior for him. He appeared to be oriented to person, place, and time. There appeared to be no difficulties with his thought process.

Record Review: Donny participated in an extensive evaluation with the Bridges Program in
the spring of 2009. The following is a summary of material taken from that report.
Team Summary: Donny was referred for the evaluation for concerns of Asperger’s Disorder
due to issues with socialization and some aggressive behavior at home. It was stated that
Donny met the 11 out of 12 criteria for Asperger’s Disorder. The team determined that Donny
meets the criteria for Asperger’s Disorder with a secondary diagnosis of ADHD. They also
reported a mix of depression and anxiety.
Diagnostic impressions:
DSM-IV
Axis I: Asperger’s Disorder with associated ADHD-combined type
Anxiety Disorder, NOS
Disorder of Written Expression
Mathematics Disorder (retrieval of math facts)
Phonological Disorder
Social and Pragmatic Language Disorder
Axis II: Deferred
Axis III: Mild Persistent Asthma, May-Hegglin Anomaly
Axis IV: Problems in family of origin, impairments in social and interpersonal style, problems
in academic and legal sphere.
Axis V: GAF 55
Tests administered as part of the Bridges evaluation:
Intelligence:
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV (WISC-IV)
Academic Achievement Test
Woodcock Johnson-III Tests of Achievement (WJ-III ACH)
Test of Written Language-III Story Writing section
Neuropsychological Tests
Rey Complex Figure Test and Recognition Trial
Finger Tapping Test
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-IV
NEPSY-II: Selected Subtests
Seashore Rhythm Test
Speech Sounds Perception Test
California Verbal Learning Test-Children’s Version

Trail Making Test: Parts A and B
Booklet Category Test
Behavioral Ratings and Personality Tests
Clinical interview with Janet Downs
Child Behavior Checklist Teacher Report Form
Thematic Apperception Test
Social Responsiveness Scale
Brown ADD Scales
Review of Records.
The following section is taken verbatim from the report completed by Bridges:

Intelligence Testing Results
On the administration of the WISC-IV Donny achieved a Verbal Comprehension Index (VCI)
score of 116, placing him in the 86th percentile and the High Average range for language
based cognitive functions involving reasoning, comprehension and conceptualization. His
abstract verbal reasoning placed him in the 91st percentile. His expressive vocabulary placed
him in the 63rd percentile. His ability to explain social norms and customs place him in the
91st percentile.
His perceptual reasoning Index (PRI) score of 112 placed him in the79th percentile and the
High Average range for perceptual reasoning, fluid reasoning, and organization. He did well
on a test of hands on visual spatial organization, performing in the 84th percentile. When
asked to analyze visual patterns in his mind he had more difficulty performing in the 37th
percentile. His abstract visual reasoning places him in the 91st percentile.
Donny’s Processing Speed Index (PSI) score of 80 place him in the 9th percentile and the Low
Average to Borderline range for his ability to efficiently process information. Processing
Speed also represents a significant relative weakness for Donny. On a test of coding which
involved the efficient integration of working memory, graph motor output, and visual
scanning he performed in the 5th percentile. On a less demanding test of visual scanning
efficiency, he performed in the 25th percentile. Processing speed has been found to serve as
the foundation for many cognitive actives, including mental capacity, reading development
and performance, conservation of mental energy, and efficient use of working memory for
higher-level fluid reasoning task. Impaired processing speed can contribute to both academic
and behavioral difficulties.
Donny’s full scare I.Q. of 100 placed him in the 50th percentile and the Average range, but
does not adequately represent his higher-level cognitive abilities, which fall in the High
Average range. His General Ability Index score of 110 provides further estimate of his
cognitive functions as falling in the beginning of the High Average range.Working memory
and processing speed are significant relative weaknesses for Donny. Impairments in these
areas will lead to difficulties in executing work efficiently, and in efficient processing of
information. These results are consistent with his previous intelligence testing in 2007.

Westbrook Psychometric Testing Results for this evaluation: Donny was administered the
reading subtest of the Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT3). His raw score of 39
indicated the ability to read at the seventh grade level. He was thus deemed able to selfadminister
all of the psychometric tests.
Donny completed the Million Adolescent Personality Inventory (MAPI). He did not respond
to the items in a fully reliable manner so the interpretation is done with caution. The MAPI
provides information that will be presented in two categories. The first is personality style.
Donny might have an inflated sense of self worth, an air of imperturbability, and a dislike for
fulfilling social responsibility. His interpersonal relationships are typically narcissistically
gratifying and fleeting. He does not appear to care that being undependable and socially
exploitive are inconsiderate and presumptuous. When being exploitive and self-centered he is
not motivated by hostility or malice but an assumption that the rules of social responsibility
do not apply to him. When people react to him and become irritated or alienated he may react
with contempt and then flimsy rationalizations. He is likely to project blame onto others.
The second part of the MAPI interpretation is expressed concerns. Overall Donny expresses
no concerns that are typical of his age group. He describes feeling confident of his body and
development. He responded to statements indicating a high level of self-esteem and
confidence. This may be accurate but more likely it is a lack of insight into these issues due to
his Asperger’s diagnosis. He indicated that family is not a part of his problems and finds his
home to be a comfortable and supportive environment. He appears to be a caring and goodnatured
person. He is always willing to help others and accepts others imperfections.
The Youth Self Report (YSR) was completed by Donny to obtain his perceptions of his
competencies and problems. He reported that he participates in no sports and that he has
interests in one hobby. He belongs to no social organizations, teams, or clubs. He reported
that he has one job or chore. His responses indicate that he has four or more friends and that
he sees friends one or two times a week outside of regular school hours. He rated his school
performance as average in language arts, average in social studies, average in math, and
average in science. His Total Competence score was in the clinical range below the 10th
percentile for self-reports by boys aged 11 to 18. His score on the Activities scale was in the
clinical range below the third percentile, and his score on the Social scale was in the normal
range. On the YSR problem scales, Donny’s Total Problems, Internalizing, and Externalizing
scores were all in the normal range for boys aged 11 to 18. Scores on all rated syndrome
scales were in the normal range.
The Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) was completed by Janet Downs, Donny’s
grandmother, to obtain her perceptions of Donny’s competencies and problems. She reported
that Donny participates in two sports and that he has interests in three hobbies. He belongs to
no social organizations, teams, or clubs. She reported that he has two jobs or chores. She
reported that he has one close friend that he sees friends, one, or two times a week outside of
regular school hours. She rated his school performance as average in language arts, average in social studies, average in math, and average in science. Donny’s total competence score was in the clinical range below the 10th percentile for parents ratings of boys aged 12 to 18. His

scores on the activities and school scales were both in the normal range, and his score on the
social scale was in the borderline range.
On the CBCL problem scales, Donny’s Total Problems, Internalizing, and Externalizing
scores were all in the clinical range above the 90th percentile for boys aged 12 to 18. His
scores on the Somatic Complaints and Aggressive Behavior syndromes were in the normal
range. His scores on the Thought Problems and Attention Problems syndromes were in the
clinical range above the 97th percentile. His scores on the Anxious/Depressed, Social
Problems, and Rule-Breaking Behavior syndromes were in the borderline clinical range.
These results indicate that Donny’s grandmother reported more problems than are typically
reported by parents of boys aged 12 to 18, particularly problems of anxiety or depression,
withdrawn or depressed behavior, problems in social relationships, thought problems,
attention problems, and rule-breaking behavior.
On the CBCL, the DSM-oriented scales indicate Donny’s scores on the Anxiety Problems and
Oppositional Defiant Problems scales were in the normal range. His score on the Attention
Deficit Hyperactivity scale was in the normal range. His scores on the affective problems and
conduct problems scales were in the borderline range.
Conclusions and Recommendations: The basic question to be answered in this evaluation is
this: If Donny has an impairment does it affect his ability to participate knowingly and
meaningfully in the trial and cooperate with the defense attorney? One factor to consider in
answering this question is cognitive ability. Based on Donny’s cognitive testing, he is
competent to stand trial. He has an average to high average I.Q., indicating his ability to
understand information provided regarding the process and to reason with the information that
he acquires or brings to the situation. The second area of functioning to evaluate is his mental
health. The results of this evaluation indicate that a diagnosis of Asperger’s is warranted.
Donny’s limited social functioning and communication skills should not be confused with low
cognitive ability or the inability to participate in the proceedings. At the time of the interview,
he had a firm grasp of reality. His affect was flat and his communication skills were limited;
however, this does not rise to the level of inability to stand trial.
In working with Donny through the court process, it is important that his limitations be
considered. He does have difficulty expressing himself. He also has difficulty in establishing a
typical ebb and flow of conversation; this is all part of his diagnosis of Asperger’s. It may be
helpful for his attorney to educate herself about Asperger’s if she has not already.





Legal Competency for Trial

Competency to stand trial refers to the defendant’s ability and psychological state at the time of the trial. Competency to stand trial is a legal, rather than a psychological, concept. Although it is most common for the evaluation to be requested pretrial, it may be requested at any time during the trial. Legally, to be considered competent to stand trial, a defendant must meet the Dusky standard. The defendant must be able to:

  • Understand the charges
  • Contribute to the trial
  • Assist the attorney in the defense
  • Understand the possible consequences of the outcome

Even defendants with severe mental disorders may be judged competent so long as they are able to assist the attorney and can understand the charges and proceedings (though if the defendant wishes to serve as his/her own attorney, or if the charges are complex, a higher standard of competency may be applied). The burden of proof that the defendant is incompetent lies on the defense. Other issues of competence include competence to plead guilty (which holds that the defendant’s plea must be knowing, voluntary, and intelligent) and competence to waive the services of an attorney. It is currently debated whether different levels of competence should be applied for these particular competencies. It is very important to know the difference between competency and sanity. In the insanity defense, the defendant attempts to prove that he/she was not mentally stable at the time of the crime, and the level of instability has to be severe enough to indicate that the defendant was not responsible. An example of an insanity defense would be if someone with a psychotic disorder had a total break from reality and murdered someone. The bar for insanity is pretty high. On the other hand, with competency, all prosecutors have to do is show that the person understands enough about the case (and about reality) to either defend him/herself or assist an attorney in his/her defense. All we really need to know is if the person is competent enough to get a fair trial. If not, then the trial generally cannot be held, and a determination must be made if competency can be restored somehow (for example, with medication).

Reference

Costanzo, M., & Krauss, D. (2012). Forensic and legal psychology: Psychological science applied to law. New York, NY: Worth.

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