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Forensic Psychology: Assessing Competence and Insanity

To further understand the differences between competency and insanity, as well as the challenges of prosecuting mentally ill offenders, consider the following questions:

1.MENTALLY ILL OFFENDERS

What do you think are some of the difficulties in prosecuting mentally ill offenders? (At least 250 words)

2.COMPETENCE TO STAND TRIAL

What types of questions would you ask a defendant to assess his or her competence to stand trial? (at least 250 words)

Solution Preview

Hi,

Good questions! Let's take a closer look. I also attached two supporting articles for further consideration, some of which this response is drawn.

RESPONSE:

1.MENTALLY ILL OFFENDERS: What do you think are some of the difficulties in prosecuting mentally ill offenders? (At least 250 words)

The notion that defendants must be capable of assisting in their defense and participating in the legal process can be traced to at least the 14th century, when Common Law courts refused to proceed against defendants considered to be incompetent as a result of mental disorder or mental defect (Poythress, Bonnie, Monahan, Otto, & Hoge, 2002, as cited in http://www.apcj.org/Documents/Article4Competence.pdf.).

Mental illness results in a "diminished mental capacity" (legal terms), which means that the person's sense of truth is qualitatively different than those not. This calls into question the person's culpability for a crime at the same level as someone who is not mentally ill. The person may be guilty, but the person should be treated differently in terms of consequences e.g., mental health treatment versus jail. As a case in point, the person really believed, for example, that her or his life was at risk, so they were acting in self-defense when they attached the person who they perceived to be a threat. Perhaps, a person not having mental illness would have clearly reasoned that was not the case, but this person's "diminished mental capacity" due to mental illness did not allow for that distinction.

Another difficulty is that the jury is often not educated about mental illness and treats the person in exactly the same way as someone not suffering for mental illness. This was the case with Andrea Yates, the Texas mother, who was charged with the murder of her five children, has a documented history of postpartum depression and psychiatric hospitalization, yet the district attorney prosecuting her case recently offered to take a possible death penalty off the table if she would withdraw her insanity plea. In the meantime, debate rages nationwide over whether Yates should be held responsible for the killings and punished accordingly. GSJ reporter Mary Jo Curtis recently asked Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Rhode Island Psychiatric Society President Barry Wall, M.D., about the handling of the mentally ill in the American legal system.(see attached file).

Third, society has dumped the mentally ill into the criminal justice system, but it will be a significant change when we begin diagnosing or treating them. Prosecutors are expected to act as mental health professionals, instead of criminal justice professionals. Another ...

Solution Summary

To further understand the differences between competency and insanity, as well as the challenges of prosecuting mentally ill offenders, this solution outlines some of the difficulties in prosecuting mentally ill offenders and the types of questions a forensic psychologist would likely ask a defendant to assess his or her competence to stand trial. Supplemented with two supporting articles on the topics of persecuting the mentally ill and the issue of being competent to stand trail.

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