Changes in Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations and the Role of Psychologists

On July 1, 2011, a new law went into effect relevant to those psychologists who conduct Competency to Stand Trial evaluations.  This change in the law denotes a landmark and substantial change for psychologists for those determined to be competent to conduct these evaluations for the Courts.  The following code citations constitute the change in the law. The new law reads

IC 35-36-3-1
Hearing; psychiatric examination; delay or continuance of trial; confinement in psychiatric
institution; competency restoration services.

Sec. 1(a) If at any time before the final submission of any criminal case to the court or the jury trying the case, the court has reasonable grounds for believing that the defendant lacks the ability to understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of a defense, the court shall immediately fix a time for a hearing to determine whether the defendant has that ability.  The court shall appoint two (2) or three (3) competent, disinterested:

(1) psychiatrists;

(2) psychologists endorsed by the Indiana State Board of Examiners in Psychology as Health Service Providers in Psychology; or

(3)physicians; who have expertise in determining competency.

At least one (1) of the individuals appointed under this subsection must be a psychiatrist or psychologist. However, none may be an employee or a contractor of a state institution (as defined in IC12-7-2-184).  The individuals who are appointed shall examine the defendant and testify at the hearing as to whether the defendant can understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of the defendant’s defense.

(b) At the hearing, other evidence relevant to whether the defendant has the ability to understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of the defendant’s defense may be introduced.  If the court finds that the defendant has the ability to understand the proceedings and assist in the preparation of the defendant’s defense, the trial shall proceed.  If the court finds that the defendant lacks this ability, it shall delay or continue the trial and order the defendant committed to the division of mental health and addiction.

This change in the law is very important as it now acknowledges that HSPPs, who possess special training in competency evaluations, are recognized by the State Courts as having specialized training in the area and who can serve as an asset to the Court.  The mandate that psychiatrists be part of the evaluations process has been rescinded.