18 Assessment of Competence to Stand Trial

Forensic Psychology


  1. Kathleen Powers Stafford PhD, ABPP1,
  2. Martin O. Sellbom PhD2

Published Online: 26 SEP 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781118133880.hop211018

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition

How to Cite

Stafford, K. P. and Sellbom, M. O. 2012. Assessment of Competence to Stand Trial. Handbook of Psychology, Second Edition. 11:III:18.

Author Information

  1. 1

    Private Practice, Hudson, Ohio, USA

  2. 2

    University of Alabama, Department of Psychology, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 26 SEP 2012


The disciplines of psychology and the law interface most frequently when the issue of competence to stand trial is raised. This chapter begins with consideration of the evolution of legal thinking on competence to stand trial through a review of pertinent case law and statutory criteria. Research on systems issues, attorneys' concerns, and predictors of trial competence is then summarized. Forensic assessment instruments that structure the assessment of functional aspects of competence are reviewed. The role of psychological testing in assessing capacity as it may be affected by psychopathology, intellectual limitations, or cognitive impairment, and in identifying the probability of malingering of symptoms to avoid prosecution, is discussed. Special challenges posed by defendants with psychosis, mental retardation, or speech and hearing impairments are considered. Studies of competence reports, including the reliability of opinions and the data on which they are based, are summarized. Published guidelines for competency evaluations and reporting the results are cited. Finally, interventions that address competence deficits and treatment of defendants found incompetent to stand trial are covered.


  • trial competence;
  • law;
  • assessment;
  • restoration