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WU Competency to Stand Trial & Roles of Psychologists Discussion

In 1960, the United Sates Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision that has helped shape how forensic psychology professionals conduct evaluations of a defendant’s competency to stand trial (Dusky vs. United States). Milton Dusky was tried for aiding in the rape and kidnapping of a young girl. Although he was suffering from schizophrenia at the time of his first trial, he was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison. His appeal and reversal of his sentence was granted by the Supreme Court. He was sent back to the lower court and received a 20-year sentence. In its ruling, the Court created a standard for competency that relies on the determination of whether the defendant has “sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding” and a “rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him” (Dusky vs. United States, 362 US 402 1960).

Although the definition of competency to stand trial may differ from one state to the next, most definitions have the same basic elements as are present in the Dusky decision. The federal definition of incompetency to stand trial is as follows: “…the defendant may presently be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense” (U.S. Code § 4241).

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review Chapter 5 in your course text, Introduction to Forensic Psychology. Pay close attention to the meaning of competency as defined in the courts.
  • Review the federal definition of competency, at the Web site located in the Learning Resources: “§ 4241. Determination of mental competency to stand trial to undergo post-release proceedings.”
  • Given the federal definition of competency, think about how you might determine a person’s competency to stand trial.
  • Think about how you might describe some defendants who could be considered incompetent to stand trial according to the federal definition and why they might be judged to be incompetent.

With these thoughts in mind:

Post by Day 4 a brief description of two hypothetical examples of defendants who could be considered incompetent to stand trial using the federal definition of competency to stand trial. Explain how and why each might be considered incompetent, linking your reasoning to the language of the definition. Be specific.

Learning Resources


  • Course Text: Bartol, C. R.,& Bartol, A. M. (2019). Introduction to forensic psychology: Research and application (5th ed.). Sage.
      • Chapter 5, “Consulting with Criminal Courts”

Web Site

Optional Resources

  • Note: Because of the ever-changing nature of Web sites such as those listed below, there is no guarantee that clips or Web sites will always be available. Hence, the following links are listed as Optional Resources only. However, it is highly recommended that you view them as they will assist you in completing one or more of your assignments.
  • Home Page of Gary Wells, PhD
  • Article: Hare, R. D. (1996). Psychopathy: A clinical construct whose time has come. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23(1), 25–54.


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