What is Competency?

Competency is a term used to describe a defendant's ability to understand and actively engage in legal proceedings that are held against them.

This encompasses the defendant's mental state and whether or not they can grasp the charges that have been brought against them, the potential consequences of being found guilty, and the legal process as a whole.

The issue of competency is highly significant in criminal trials since the Constitution guarantees that defendants have the right to a fair trial. They cannot be tried or convicted if they are deemed incompetent to stand trial. In the event that a defendant is found to be incompetent, the trial is put on hold until the defendant is restored to a state of competency.

Mental health professionals are typically responsible for conducting competency evaluations. They assess the defendant's cognitive and psychological abilities, which may include interviews with the defendant, psychological testing, and a review of their medical history.

If a defendant is found to be incompetent, the court may order treatments or interventions to help the defendant regain competency. These may include psychiatric medication, therapy, or other interventions. Once the defendant has been restored to competency, the trial can continue.

It's important to distinguish between competency evaluations and insanity defenses. An insanity defense asserts that the defendant was not accountable for their actions at the time of the crime because of a mental illness or defect.

On the other hand, a competency evaluation determines the defendant's capacity to participate in legal proceedings.