Psychology and the law
Forensic psychology in police investigations
Fitness to stand trail and mental state of the person
A. What does fitness mean?
- to receive a fair trail, ppl should be able to defent themselves against
B. What is person is unfit to stand trail?
- person should not be tried
- How do we know if a person is fit or unfit ro sand trail?
C. Legal standards for determining fitness
1. Prior to 1836: ability to enter a plea
- Reason for not entering plea: “mute of malice” (deliberately silent)
- if so, can use torture to extract a plea
- “ mute by visitation of God” (Eg: deaf, mute or insane)
- if so, person should not be tried
2. R vs. Pritchard (836) : charged with bestiality. Also, a deaf-mute, so
couldn’t - enter plea; couldn’t ne tried for the crime.
- he was deaf and retarded, so he didn’t go on trail
- court establishes clearer legal standard: able to enter a plea, AND
- must have “sufficient intellect” to understand procedings.
- Canada’s fitness standard for next 156 years.
3. Canada’s Bill C-30 (1992): Revision to Section 2 of criminal code
- provided a new “fitness” standard:
Person is unfit to stand on trail if:
- person had a mental disorder
- -disorder interferes with ability to conduct a defence. Three criteria or
Unable b/c of mental disorder to :
1. Understanding nature and object of proceedings
2. Understand possible consequences
3. Communicate with counsel
Three other things about Section 2:
- fitness assumed unless unfitness is shown “on balance of
probabilities” (lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt);
- they might be a little it to stay on trail, but they will not be on trial just
to be safe.
- If 51% probable to stay on trail,
- Party raising issue has burden of proving unfitness; the defense and
the prosecution side can make this point
- The court determines whether burden is met (whether accused is fit or
D. How do we assess fitness to stand trail?
1. who can made an assessment?
- prior to 2005, only “medical doctors” can provide assessments to
courts (don’t have to be “experts” in mental disorders),
- in 2005, expanded to include “other qualified professionals (includes psychologists)
- psychologists do these assessments in US and Australia
2. Another role of psychologists:
- develop the tests that are used to assess fitness
- the medical doctor will be presented this assessment and the MD
would be allowed to show it in court.
3. How is fitness assessed?
- show that person has mental disorder and
- disorder interferes with criteria in section 2
Fitness interview test – Revised (FIT-R)
- it had to revised to accommodate the change in the Bill C – 30
- Has three sections in FIT-R:
- Nature and object of proceedings. Includes:
- Arrest process and specific charges;
- Understand the role of judges, prosecutor, defense attorney, and jury;
- Court procedures (eg: can disagree with witnesses who testify against
Consequences of proceedings. Includes Eg:
-range and nature of penalties eg: being sent to prison; eligibility for parole
Ability to communicate with counsel
- can communicate facts of case to lawyers
- can plan assist with legal defense strategy
- can testify (if required)
- can manage courtroom behavior
Note: FIT-R does not assess mental disorder (other tests are used eg: DSM-IV)
E. What happens after assessment?
- assessmen report is submitted to court.
- court makes its own judgement:
If Fit to stand trail, proceedings continue.
- accused can be detained in custody if reason to believe he/she might
If Unfit, proceedings are temporarily stopped
- goal: restore fitness (using “treatment”)
- In Canada, usual treatment was medication to control mental disorder
- Once the meds are given and fitness is restored they might be able to
meet the 3 “fitness” criteria.
- Since 2005, psychological treatment are more common to achieve
criteria to fitness.
Part 2: Mental state at the time of the offence
- focus on past mental state
A. What does “guilty” mean?
- two elements must be present:
1. A “wrongful deed” (actus reus)
2. Criminal or “evil” intent (mens rea)
- a guilty mind. - Eg: at times, I might kill but not know have a guilty intent
B. Legal standards for determining absence of guilty mind
- 1700s : the “wild beast”standard
- “totally deprived of understanding, no more than a infant, wild beast”
- this was the standard to prove for an unguilty mind.
- 1736 : Lord Hale – level of understanding less than a normal 14 year
- 1800s : Two important cases
1. Hadfield attempts to shoot King George 3 of England; charged with
treason; pleads insanity. Jury agrees.
- Not guilty by reason of insanity
- he was set free!
- verdict infuriates public: accused can “get off” simply by pleading
The Criminal lunatics act (1800)
- anyone found not guilty for the reason of insanity could be confined in
mental facility for life.
- In 1991, this act actually went against the charter of rights and they
had to change it and then reinforce this act.