Logic and reliability of evaluations of competence to stand trial

Law Hum Behav. 1998 Oct;22(5):519-47. doi: 10.1023/a:1025787429972.


Because the trier of fact determines the weight to be assigned to an examiner's opinion by assessing the strength and persuasiveness of his or her analysis of the data, it is essential that forensic reports communicate the examiner's reasoning process. This study analyzes community examiners' reports on competence to stand trial (CST), emphasizing the nature of examiners' (1) expressed conceptualizations of CST and (2) reasoning establishing a nexus between CST impairments and symptoms of psychopathology. Expert raters coded 100 randomly selected CST reports with respect to a variety of issues, including the examiners' description of the defendant's psycholegal deficits, provision of specific reasoning to link these deficits to psychopathology, and agreement with a paired examiner's global and specific opinions about the defendant's impairments. CST reports were found to (1) reflect basic operationalizations of competence that fail to incorporate legally relevant facets such as a defendant's decisional capacities and (2) adequately document clinical findings, but fail to describe the reasoning underlying psycholegal conclusions. Examiners demonstrated moderately high levels of agreement on defendant's global CST, but expressed radically divergent bases for this opinion. These findings are discussed in light of legal, ethical, and professional standards of practice.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Documentation
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Expert Testimony / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Logic*
  • Male
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Psychopathology
  • Utah