Psychology and the Law ch 7

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1 Apr 2012
The role of mental illness in court
Presumptions in canada’s legal system
There must be 2 elements present to have legal guilt: (1) actus era: a wrongful deed
and (2) mens era: criminal intent
In order to be found beyond a reasonable doubt guilty, you need both elements
Fitness to stand trial
Unfit to stand trial: when a defendant cannot conduct defense at any stage of
proceedings bc of a mental disorder
Criteria for being fit includes:
If the defendant is mute of malice (intentionality)
If the defendant can pled to the indictment
If the defendant has enough cognitive info to understand the trial proceedings
Before Bill C-30, there were a lot of inconsistencies and lack of clarity with the criminal
code of canada; someone who was unfit would be confined for life
Bill C-30 created a fitness standard: defendant is unfit if they cannot understand the
proceedings of the trial, understand the consequences of the proceedings, or
communicate with the counsel due to limited cognitive capacity
Fitness evaluation must be completed w/in five days (can have extensions up to
30 days) - entire length of detention should not exceed 60 days (evaluation can
happen when the patient is in detention, out-patient, or in-patient facilities
Raising the issue on fitness
The issue can be raised at all parts of the criminal trial process: including the time of
The court needs to have a balance of probability to determine if someone is unfit
(does not have to have a burden that is beyond reasonable doubt)
Both defense and Crown can raise the issue of fitness (the burden is then on the party
that raises the issue)
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How many defendants are referred for fitness evaluations?
Around 2-8% of defendants are referred for evaluation in the US
Who can assess fitness?
Assessments in canada have to be done by a medical professional (psychologists
cannot do this, but it can be any med professional beyond psychiatrists) -
psychologists can be involved in the process by doing certain tests
Fitness instruments
Screening instruments: can be used to screen out defendants that are competent
Screening instruments and having someone stay in psych facility normally have the
same results in regards to assessments
Fitness Interview Test Revised (FIT-R): semi structured interview which assesses 3
psych abilities: understanding procedures, consequences and communicating w/
Decisions involve 3 stages: (1) determining if there is a mental disorder, (2)
determining the defendants capacity for the 3 psych abilities, and (3) examining the
previous information
Distinguishing b/w fit and unfit defendants
Fit defendants are more likely to be married
People who are single, unemployed, and living alone are more likely to have
assessments of being unfit
Unfit defendants are also more likely to be older females of a minority group and have
fewer martial resources
People more unfit are also more likely to have a criminal record being charged w/
property and miscellaneous crimes rather than violent ones
Not all psychotic defenders are likely to be characterized as unfit; people w/ substance
abuse disorders are more likely to be fit than unfit
More groups (unfit and fit defendants) are similar in frequency of crimes committed,
and criminal history is also similar for both
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