Bridging the Gap Between Conventional and Standardized Competency to Stand Trial (CST) Assessments: An Examination of Defendant Answers to Conventional CST Questions

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Abstract

Despite research suggesting that use of forensic assessment instruments of competency to stand trial (CST) can improve the integrity of forensic conceptualizations (Rogers & Johansson-Love, 2009), the majority of evaluators do not use these measures in CST evaluations (Nicholson & Norwood, 2000). The purpose of this study is to bridge the gap between competency evaluations based on a conventional interview and those conducted with the aid of a standardized forensic assessment instrument. To this end, we utilized an archival sample of 704 criminal defendants (543 males, 161 females) ordered to undergo evaluations of CST. In the overall sample, as well as in 2 comparison groups comprised of individuals with psychotic disorders and mental retardation, we coded evaluee responses to 45 conventional competency questions relating to factual understanding, rational understanding, and ability to cooperate with counsel. We present accuracy rates to these questions across competent and incompetent groups in an effort to provide information that can make conventional interviews more evidence-based. Using relative risk ratios, we also sought to identify the questions most associated with evaluator opinions of incompetency. Overall, the results indicated fairly consistent trends that questions relating to rational understanding and ability to cooperate with counsel were the most associated with competence. We discuss how the relative risk ratio findings and descriptive information can be used to make conventional competency interviews more objective and empirically based by providing evaluators with a normative reference point for commonly asked competency questions.

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