Legal practice requires that defendants in criminal proceedings are competent to stand trial. To meet this requirement, Federal and State case law imposes responsibility on trial judges to ensure a defendant’s competency if presented with evidence that calls this ability into question. This duty extends to prosecuting attorneys and defense counsel, as well. If there is reason to suspect that a criminal defendant does not understand the nature or purpose of the proceedings, or is unable to properly assist in their own defense, a competency to stand trial evaluation is warranted. The question of competency to stand trial most often arises for defendants with schizophrenic-spectrum disorders, severe mood disorders, or mental retardation. Defendants may also exhibit other psychological problems that warrant evaluation such as amnesia or impaired ability to effectively communicate with defense counsel.
Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed is an extensively trained forensic psychologist who is well-versed in conducting competency to stand trial evaluations. Careful, detailed assessment of a defendant’s current behaviors, interactions with defense counsel and jail personnel, behavioral observation, and a comprehensive interview allow him to determine whether a defendant’s psychological condition meets the legal standard of incompetent to stand trial. Detailed, thorough reports clearly specify whether a defendant has severe psychological problems and if so, how these impair understanding of the nature and object of the proceeding or interfere with assisting defense counsel in a rational manner.
A competency to stand trial evaluation is warranted when there is evidence of:
- Abnormal, bizarre, or erratic behavior
- Impaired ability to rationally assist defense counsel
- Impaired understanding of the nature and object of the proceedings
- Mental retardation
- Substantial disorder of thought or mood