U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Assessment of Fitness To Stand Trial for Defendants With an Intellectual Disability: A Proposed Assessment Procedure Involving Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers

NCJ Number
Psychiatry, Psychology and Law Volume: 6 Issue: 2 Dated: 1999 Pages: 207-214
Astrid Birgden; Don Thomson
Date Published
8 pages
This article reviews some of the difficulties currently faced by mental health professionals in the assessment of a person's fitness to stand trial, with attention to the situation in Victoria (Australia); the proposed assessment procedure is designed to overcome some of these problems.
Legislative changes in Victoria, as with reforms in other countries, continue to be procedural without providing guidelines for mental health professionals regarding the assessment of fitness to stand trial. Several difficulties present themselves in developing an assessment procedure. In Australia the law provides little guidance about the level of understanding required for a person to be competent to stand trial, except that the required level of understanding not be sophisticated or technical. Another difficulty is the inadequacy of tools for measuring fitness to stand trial. Such tools typically do not include the input of lawyers who are knowledgeable about the particular abilities required for the case at issue. Further, there are inadequate validity and reliability data for these tools, as well as little systematic research on the tools. An assessment procedure for defendants with an intellectual disability should involve both defense and prosecution lawyers in predicting the complexity of the trial in order to provide a contextualized inquiry; mental health professionals providing a standardized assessment and comparing the defendant's capacity to make legal decisions with that of the general population; and the defense lawyer determining the defendant's ability to communicate. 40 references