Difference Between Evaluations of Competency and a Plea / Verdict of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity

What is the difference between evaluations of competency and a plea / verdict of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI)? Are there psychological bases for the two or are these legal standards? How can psychologists help to create scientifically based evaluations for the two?

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The terms competency and “not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI)” are two important concepts in the corridors of justice. Although the two concepts may be related in some ways, two legal concepts are separate and play different roles in the justice systems. The concept of competency determines whether the defendant is fully aware of the nature of the criminal proceedings or charges leveled against them (Johnson, 2014). In regard to this concept, the Supreme Court holds that “the defendant must have the sufficient present ability to consult with his or her lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding” (Johnson, 2014).

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On the other hand, the NGRI concept holds that the defendant is considered legally insane in the event he or she was suffering from a significant mental health condition at the time the charge leveled against them occurred (Johnson, 2014). However, the concept of NGRI varies between states while some do not have the insanity defense at all. In this regard, the courts do not determine the sanity of a defendant by considering the person’s state of mind during the time of trial, but rather during the occurrence of a crime.

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Although the competency and “not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI)” concepts are related to psychological processes, they are mainly considered as legal concepts. This is because they are determined by the courts. Notably, the competence and insanity of a defendant are not determined by psychologists but by the courts with the help of qualified professionals. In this sense, the two concepts are legal rather than psychological concepts. With the help psychologists, the two concepts can create scientifically based evaluations through conducting a forensic psychiatric examination.

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The competency and “not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI)” concepts are essential during the trial process of a defendant. The former determines the state of mind of the defendant during the trial while the latter assess their mental state when a crime was committed. Although the concepts may be related to psychological processes, they are referred to legal concepts as the courts determine them.

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