Legal Standards

Legal Standards



Perhaps one of the most fascinating aspects in psychology is addressing issues of competency. When is someone unable to stand trial due to some form of diminished capacity? What are the limits of criminal responsibility? How do the criminal courts address these issues in determining innocence, guilt, and sentencing?




There are many competency assessments that occur every year. These assessments fall under the category of FMHA’s or forensic mental health assessments. Competency to stand trial, or a growing alternative term, adjudicative competency, addresses the ability of a defendant to proceed and stand trial. Competency determines if a defendant understands what is happening and why? Why is this important? Defendants must be able to make a judgment on waiving their rights, the ramifications of pleading guilty, and to monitor their rights to due process. As you can see, competency issues also include the ability to make decisions in one’s own self-interest. This is called decisional competency and more and more a part of the competency assessment.


Insanity Defense

Insanity is a legal term, not a psychiatric or psychological one. It is a legal standard that must be met. As a result, a diagnosis of a mental illness does not automatically insure this defense would be appropriate. In order for a person to be considered guilty of a crime, they must possess “guilty mind” at the time of the crime. When a mental disorder is the cause of the lack of guilty mind, the insanity defense may be considered appropriate. In this defense, it is the competency of an individual at the time of the crime that is the significant factor. As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult to determine what the mental state was of the defendant. As a result, mental health professionals use a variety of objective and subjective assessment tools to make a reasonable determination. There is an important distinction between competency and insanity. Competency addresses the state of mind of the defendant at the time of trial, while insanity addresses the mind of the defendant at the time of the crime. In some instances, both may apply. Another area that has gained public interest is the insanity defense, or “not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI). Although we often hear of high-profile cases on the news, the actual employment of the NGRI only occurs in 1 to 3% of cases. The reason for this is that it is extremely difficult to prove. Of the 1 to 3% of cases, only about 20 to 25% of those defendants are acquitted.



For this module, read the following in Bartol & Bartol:


Chapters 5 & 6 (5th ed.)

Active Learning Discussion Guidelines


In the Active Learning threaded discussion area, respond to the stated questions, including any relevance to and implications on the field of criminal justice. Be sure to discuss the issue(s) to which the question pertains. Remarks can include your opinion(s), but must be based on experience, research, and/or prior learning. Use this exercise to foster a rich dialogue with your colleagues about issues that are important to the field of criminal justice.




During the span of the discussion, you must post to the board on four unique days.




Your initial posting must be no less than 200 words and is due no later than Thursday 11:59 PM EST/EDT. The day you post will count as one of your required four unique postings.


You will also be required to post responses to at least three of your colleagues’ initial postings. Responses must be no less than 100 words, be posted on at least three unique days, and are due no later than Sunday 11:59 PM EST/EDT.

Active Learning Discussion 3


The Active Learning Discussion Question for this module is posted on the Active Learning 3 Discussion Board.




  •     Post an initial response and then post responses to your classmates.
  •     Be sure to review both the Active Learning Discussion Guidelines in the Start Here menu before posting.

Written Assignment 3
Your written Assignment is:

Discuss the current standards for competency and insanity in the legal system.

This is a research-based APA review of literature assignment and cannot include any personal opinion, experience, or hypothetical scenarios. Consider using the readings for this module as a starting point and then use the research literature to gain a more in-depth view of what each group deals with in the course of their professional work. This must be in APA format and include a cover page, abstract, discussion, conclusion, and references. Your paper should go beyond the obvious, be written at a graduate level, and must be at least 1,200 words in length. You must use at least two outside scholarly and/or professional sources other than your textbook.  Remember, all resources including, but not limited to, journals, magazine, and/or books must be properly cited using APA style

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