Hospitalization of criminal defendants for evaluation of competence to stand trial or for restoration of competence: clinical and legal issues

Behav Sci Law. 2003;21(3):369-91. doi: 10.1002/bsl.546.


The clinical and legal literature abounds with articles dealing with competence to stand trial; while most agree that criminal defendants must be capable of defending themselves before the state can bring them to trial, a number of articles are quite critical of the procedures by which these concepts are operationalized, some even going so far as to suggest abolishing the requirement for competence altogether. One of the major problems leading to the criticisms is the unnecessary loss of liberty involved. Although the length of incarceration has decreased significantly since the 1970s, the majority of states still permit, or require, hospitalization for evaluation of competence, and even more so for treatment to restore competence. The author reviews case law and presents data from his survey of current state statutes and responses from state forensic mental health program directors, to demonstrate the rarity of outpatient treatment to restore competence. He argues that outpatient treatment for defendants who do not require hospitalization on clinical or public safety grounds should be available, on both clinical and legal grounds, and provides recommendations for establishing such programs in the community.

Publication types

  • Legal Case

MeSH terms

  • Commitment of Mentally Ill / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Crime / psychology
  • Criminal Law
  • Hospitalization*
  • Humans
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Prisoners / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Prisoners / psychology
  • United States