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Evaluation of Competence to Stand Trial (Best Practices for by Patricia Zapf, Ronald Roesch

By Patricia Zapf, Ronald Roesch

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Judges may be aware of the possible misuse of competency evaluations but nevertheless routinely grant motions requesting evaluations, perhaps in large part because of a desire to avoid a basis for postconviction appeal. Roesch and Golding (1980) found that North Carolina judges suspected that defense attorneys either misunderstood the competency laws or were attempting to delay trial, but they nevertheless rarely denied such motions. Reasons other than a concern about a defendant’s competency may at least partially account for the consistent finding that only a small percentage of defendants referred for competency evaluations are found incompetent.

Writing for the majority, Justice Breyer noted that involuntary medication of incompetent defendants should be rare, and identified several factors that a court must consider in determining whether a defendant can be forced to take medication: First, a court must find that important governmental interests are at stake. The Government’s interest in bringing to trial an individual accused of a serious crime is important. However, 1 chapter 26 Foundation courts must consider each case’s facts in evaluat- CASE LAW ing this interest because special circumstances Sell v.

Within the context of CST, the ability to assist counsel generally incorporates the defendant’s ability to • consult with counsel, • relate to the lawyer, • plan legal strategy, • engage in her defense, • challenge witnesses, • testify relevantly, and • manage her courtroom behavior. The defendant must be able to engage with counsel in a rational manner; thus, effectively assisting counsel requires that the defendant be able to communicate coherently and reason (see earlier discussion under Reasoning).

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