Competency to Proceed to Trial Evaluations and Rational Understanding

Published date01 December 2015
Date01 December 2015
DOI10.1177/0306624X14543768
Subject MatterArticles
International Journal of
Offender Therapy and
Comparative Criminology
2015, Vol. 59(14) 1505 –1519
© The Author(s) 2014
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DOI: 10.1177/0306624X14543768
ijo.sagepub.com
Article
Competency to Proceed to
Trial Evaluations and Rational
Understanding
Laurie Ragatz1, Michael J. Vitacco1, and Rozanna Tross1
Abstract
In Dusky v. United States, the United States Supreme Court established “rational
understanding” as a necessary component of a defendant’s competency to stand
trial. Yet, rational understanding has engendered misunderstanding, stemming from
inconsistent court rulings and lack of systematic attention given to definitions of
rationality. The purpose of this article is to assist with the conceptualization of
rational understanding as it relates to competency to proceed to trial. This will be
accomplished through a review of legal decisions and scholarly papers that provide
various definitions of rationality. We discuss the suitability of standardized instruments
of competency and how they may assist in providing a valid metric for evaluating
rational abilities. We also provide discussion of how case law, in conjunction with
psycholegal research, can be used to gain nuanced insight into operationalizations
of rational understanding. By gaining a thorough understanding of rationality in
competency to proceed to trial evaluations, clinicians may improve on the quality and
foundation of their evaluations.
Keywords
rational understanding, competency to stand trial, restoration of competency
Addressing the Rational Understanding Prong in
Competency to Proceed to Trial Assessments
In the United States, case law dealing with issue of competency to proceed to trial has
focused on fundamental fairness, which is provided by the procedural and substantive
1Georgia Regents University, Augusta, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael J. Vitacco, Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, Georgia Regents University, 3405
Mike Padgett Highway, Augusta, GA 30906, USA.
Email: mvitacco@gru.edu
543768IJOXXX10.1177/0306624X14543768International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative CriminologyRagatz et al.
research-article2014

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