Contributions of forensic evaluator attributes to recommendations for competency to stand trial for defendants with mental retardation

Date of Completion

January 2002


Education, Guidance and Counseling|Education, Special




This study examines whether certain attributes of forensic evaluators affect their recommendations about the competency of defendants with mental retardation to stand trial (CST). The evaluator attributes examined included: background training, level of experience in conducting CST evaluations in terms of both years and cases, and the relationship between evaluator's and persons with mental retardation including general knowledge about mental retardation, frequency of contact with persons with mental retardation, the intensity of the relationship and whether the contact was purely professional or mixed professional and personal. ^ With the increasing participation of persons with mental retardation in the community there has been a concomitant concern over appropriate treatment of those individuals in all aspects of life, including the criminal justice system. To date, considerably less attention has been paid to the specialized nature of evaluating the competence of persons with mental retardation than to the evaluation of persons with mental illness. The present study addressed one of the components of this complex question. ^ The following research questions were addressed: Is there an association between the disciplinary background of evaluators and the recommendations of the CST status of defendants with MR? Is there an association between experience in CST evaluation as measured in cases and years and the recommendations of CST status? Is there an association between evaluators' experience and knowledge of MR and the recommendations of CST status? Is there an association between the nature of the relationship with people with MR (professional only vs. personal/professional) and the recommendations of CST status? ^ Sixty-one forensic evaluators, with varying experience in the assessment of competency to stand trial in defendants with mental retardation, varying backgrounds, and varying familiarity with mental retardation were presented a sample case of a defendant with mental retardation. They were asked for recommendations about the competency status of the defendant. Evaluators were interviewed about their backgrounds and relationship to persons with mental retardation. A chi-square analysis was performed on the resulting data to assess significance of association. Statistical significance was found in only one area—experience in years. Implications of the study for future research were explored. ^