Competency to Stand Trial

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 that exhibit symptoms of severe thought or mood disorder, or intellectual disability. Defendants may also exhibit other psychological problems or symptoms that warrant evaluation such as amnesia or impaired ability to effectively communicate with defense counsel. In addition, the question of competency may arise where a defendant is attempting to exaggerate or feign symptoms of psychological impairment or impaired memory to avoid proceeding to trial.

Criminal Responsibility

compentencyAs part of trial strategy, defense counsel may put forth an insanity defense asserting that a defendant’s state of mind at the time of the offense was severely impaired and, therefore, reduces the defendant’s legal culpability. A defendant who is competent to stand trial may still have a legitimate basis for an insanity defense. While State and Federal statutes defining legal insanity often differ, both require credible evidence that serious psychological symptoms were present and directly influenced the defendant’s behavior, judgment, reasoning, or ability to distinguish between conventional reality and fantasy. Obtaining credible, probative evidence of psychological abnormality depends on a forensic psychologist’s ability to conduct a thorough retrospective assessment of the defendant’s state of mind during the weeks, days, and hours leading up to the alleged criminal act. Furthermore, the psychologist must explain how the defendant’s symptoms influenced behavior or thinking and therefore, meet the State or Federal statute’s definition of insanity.

Meet Dr. Daniel Swerdlow-Freed

With over 25 years of experience as a forensic psychologist, Dr. Swerdlow-Freed has established a reputation for conducting comprehensive competency to stand trial, competency to waive Miranda rights, and criminal responsibility evaluations. He methodically examines all relevant information—from police and prosecution records and witness statements to jail and mental health records. Based on methodical and detailed assessment of a defendant’s current and past behavior, interactions with defense counsel and jail personnel, behavioral observation, and a comprehensive interview, he is able to advise whether a defendant’s psychological condition meets the legal standard of insanity or whether the defendant is incompetent to stand trial or competent to waive Miranda rights.

The results of the clinical interview, observation of the defendant, the defendant’s history, review of records, and psychological testing are explained in a detailed report. Criminal responsibility evaluation reports clearly explain the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the alleged crime and how this affects legal culpability. Competency to stand trial evaluation reports address whether the defendant’s current psychological state limits understanding of the nature and object of the proceedings or interferes with assisting defense counsel in a rational manner. Competency to waive Miranda rights evaluation reports explain the extent to which a defendant comprehended each right at the time of police interrogation.

Dr. Daniel Swerdlow Freed has been providing case consultation, work product review, expert witness testimony, and evaluations of criminal responsibility and competencies to stand trial and waive Miranda rights for over 25 years. All services are available to prosecution, plaintiff, and defense counsel. Forensic evaluations are available throughout Michigan only. Case consultation, work product review and expert witness testimony is available throughout the United States. If you would like to speak with Dr. Swerdlow-Freed about the unique needs of your case, call 248.539.7777 to schedule a consultation.