Lecture 26 (Thursday, March 14, 2013)
Area of clinical and applied psychology, where the amount of data is relatively limited and it tends to
be data about the validity about the assessment instruments
This is the area of forensic psychology that is the biggest in terms of the number of people who are
employed and work in this area
Largest segment of forensic psychology by population (75% do clinical or assessment kind of work
and their typical background is a PhD in clinical psychology/counseling psychology)
Assessment of individuals with respect to the criminal justice system
Assessment also occurs in the civil courts as well
Example ▯child custody cases
In this case, individuals would be assessed based on their fitness as parents and their ability and the
children would be evaluated as well for their interests and preferences
We will be talking about assessment of individuals in the criminal justice system
What we will be evaluating is the state of mind of the defendant, sometimes before trial and
sometimes after conviction
We are looking at the state of mind in three different mind frames
1. Past mental state
Assessment of an individual’s state of mind in the past, particularly at the time of the alleged offense
This is relevant to assessments of criminal responsibility or what is called insanity in jurisdictions
outside of Canada
NCRMD = not criminally responsible as a result of mental defect, means the same thing as insanity
This is the least common evaluation
2. Present mental state
This assessment is determined right now
This is relevant to the issue of whether the individual is mentally competent or fit to stand trial at all
3. Future mental state
Large body of work done on the future state and mental behaviour of defendants
This would be in cases where the individual has been convicted already and in many cases has served
part or his entire sentence
1 Lecture 26 (Thursday, March 14, 2013)
There are several kinds of assessment here but the one to pay attention to is risk of violence
Example ▯assault type crime, murder, rape leads to risk of violence
This is one area of assessment and evaluation to which Canadians have made an enormous
contribution in the literature and in particular by Ontarians
Fitness to Stand Trial
What does it mean to be fit or unfit to stand trial?
The general criterion for fitness to stand trial is roughly the same in all commonwealth countries
(including Canada) and the U.S.
Canadian Criminal Code statement (1992): “Is unable on account of mental disorder to conduct a
defense at any stage of the proceeding before a verdict is rendered or to instruct counsel to do so, and in
particular, unable on account of mental disorder to:
1. Understand the nature or object of the proceedings
2. Understand the possible consequences of the proceeding
3. Communicate with counsel
Dusky versus United States (1960): “The test must be whether he has sufficient present ability to
consult with his attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding and a rational as well as
factual understanding of proceedings against him.”
It is essentially the same thing; the only thing missing from this description is the ability to
communicate with counsel
The Canadian definition is much looser because you only have to fail one of those tests of
competence, but here you would have to fail both (or versus and)
Specific Issues in Fitness
1. Understand charges
Understanding what the individual is charged with
What behaviour did I engage in or am I alleged to have engaged in within the past that is the basis for
What is the nature of the crime I am supposed to have committed?
2. Give pertinent information to counsel
What did I actually do?
Can I describe my behaviour at the time at the time of this alleged offense?
2 Lecture 26 (Thursday, March 14, 2013)
Can I describe the behaviour of the police officers at that time?
Can I describe the behaviour of other individuals/witnesses at the scene at the time?
Can I provide relevant factual information about the events surrounding the alleged offense to my
3. Understand range, nature of penalties
Do I understand the range of the nature of penalties?
4. Understand legal strategies and options
Do I understand the possible legal strategies and options?
Example ▯the various kinds of pleas that I can make
5. Help choose legal strategies and options
Am I sufficiently rational and sensible to actually make choices between these various options and to
understand and respond to counsel when he/she describes these various responsibilities?
6. Understand adversarial nature of trial
Do I understand how a trial works?
Do I understand the roles of the various participants in the trial?
7. Show appropriate courtroom behaviour
Can the individual manage their behaviour in the courtroom?
There are people who may not be able to control their own behaviour
8. Follow trial events, challenge witness
Do they have the state of mind to actually follow along with the proceedings?
Can they follow along and understand the evidence that is being given (either for or against them) by
Are they able to detect problems in witness testimony, which they can then convey to their counsel?
9. Give relevant testimony
Could they give relevant testimony?
Is their state of mind such that they can recall the past and accurately describe it without distortion?
10. Maintain relationship with counsel
Do they understand the nature of their relationship with their own attorney?
Do they know that their attorney is their partner/helper?
These are all elements of ability to understand the proceedings and to adequately instruct counsel
3 Lecture 26 (Thursday, March 14, 2013)
Conducting Fitness Assessments
How do we assess fitness?
There are a number of tests and instruments available to assess competence
5 days allowed; extension possible to 30 days; detention not to exceed 60 days
Typically, an assessment of fitness is ordered by the judge on the basis of either on the request from
the defense counsel or the crown attorney
They will then be sent off to some assessment facility, where 45 days will be allowed for the various
kinds of assessment instruments
That period of assessment can be extended to about a month if necessary and under rare
circumstances (i.e. situations involving fluctuating/severe symptomatology) to 60 days
It cannot exceed 60 days because then they would argue that the defendant is being imprisoned rather
than assessing him
One of the interesting features of the Canadian system of assessment of fitness (in the minds of many
people it is oldfashioned and backwards aspect) is that only medical practitioners (MDs) are allowed
to conduct fitness assessments
Psychiatrists can but not psychologists (even highly trained clinical psychologists)
In theory, any medical doctor is eligible to conduct an assessment of fitness, even if they have no
experience with mental health, they are still in the Canadian law eligible to conduct a fitness
Invariably, a fitness assessment is done by a psychiatrist in modern time because they are a medical
professional who is trained in mental health
Four Types of Fitness Instruments
These are the general assessment tools
1. Tests for psychopathy
These would be used both in assessing for fitness and in assessing for criminal responsibility/insanity
There are a number of instruments that are specifically designed to assess specific aspects of
psychopathology, particular kinds of mental disorder
a) MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory)
Oldest and most common
On its second revision
Goes back to the 1940s
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Very long test (500 items)
b) MCMI (Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory)
Especially useful for personality disorders
2. Neuropsychological batteries
Another reason to be unfit mentally prior to trial is if the individual has actually suffered some brain
There is something physiologically wrong with the individual, whether it happened recently or years
ago, it doesn’t matter