Volume 29, Issue 4 (October 1984)
Competence to Proceed: A Functional and Context-Determinative Decision
Legally, the defendant's competence at any stage of criminal proceedings is defined in terms of the test set forth in Dusky v. United States, a test establishing minimum rationality as the basis for determining mental competence. A number of investigators have attempted to devise testing instruments to assist clinicians in applying this test to individual defendants being examined for competence. Competence, however, is both context-determinative and functional in nature. The evaluator must insist on being given specific information relating to the functions that the defendant is expected to perform. The evaluator must then assess the defendant's measurable skills in the light of those specified functions and articulate his findings to the court in terms of the skills and functions rather than in terms of conclusory legal labels. Competence is then best determined by the court as a legal, not a mental, health decision under the somewhat nebulous but nonetheless appropriate criterion of “fundamental fairness” in the light of the defendant's mental state.