Conducting Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations with Challenging Populations: Sovereign Citizens, “Frequent Flyers,” and High Risk Offenders

This workshop will focus on the following topics related to competency to stand trial: 1) Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations with Defendants Claiming Sovereign Citizen Status,  2) “Frequent Flyers”:  Conducting Multiple Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations of  Defendants Who have Cycled between Forensic Psychiatric Hospitals and Jails, and 3) Conducting Risk Assessments with Sex Offenders.

1) Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations with Defendants Claiming Sovereign Citizen Status. Dr. Owen, Dr. Fullar, and Dr. Paradis will present on a group of defendants who claim sovereign citizen status. These defendants in both civil and criminal cases argue that the courts have no jurisdiction over them.  There is often confusion in competency to stand trial (CST) evaluations about whether a defendant's statements involving sovereignty issues reflect political beliefs, practical legal strategizing, delusional thinking or a combination of these three factors.  These cases are complicated in terms of CST and are often lengthy and expensive to courts and court systems, as defendants often prolong the resolution of their criminal cases by raising these issues and engaging in what has been termed "paper terrorism" in an effort to stall or thwart the criminal justice system (in part through civil suits against attorneys, judges, court clerks, forensic examiners, etc.).  The presenters will describe the psychiatric, psychological and psychosocial characteristics of defendants who raise these issues during court proceedings and/or the CST evaluation. They will describe explanatory models of these behaviors and provide forensic evaluators information in terms of assessment of CST in these types of cases and how best to communicate relevant information to the courts.

2) "Frequent Flyers": Conducting Multiple Competency to Stand Trial Evaluations of Defendants Who have Cycled between Forensic Psychiatric Hospitals and Jails. Dr. Fullar, Dr. Radcliffe and Dr. Francois will explore some of the issues and challenges relating to competency assessments in the population of “frequent flyers, individuals who have repeated competency evaluations ordered by the court and are found unfit to proceed two or more times over the course of an incarceration for a single criminal case (necessitating repeated admissions to forensic psychiatric facilities). The workshop will explore various systemic factors (e.g., treatment environment) and clinical scenarios which can lead to difficulties in cognitive restoration, including misdiagnosis, the under-diagnosis of cognitive or intellectual impairments, and the presence of difficult to treat psychiatric disorders. Additionally, this workshop will offer new insight and guidance about methods which could be used to help avoid a scenario of a criminal defendant being found repeatedly unfit to proceed, and will discuss the potential barriers and current case law involving the novel concept (in New York State) of treating a defendant over his or her objection, with the primary aim of competency restoration. 

3) Conducting Risk Assessments with Sex Offenders. Dr. Owen will present on the issue of risk assessments in general and the specific challenges in assessing risk in sex offenders in the context of conducting competency evaluations. There are several kinds of risk assessments: Actuarial, Clinical, and Structured Clinical Judgment (SCJ). Some assessments are relatively simple to complete; these tend to be the actuarial measures. Some assessments are complex and rely on astute and well-informed clinical assessments. While SCJ assessments seem to have the upper hand in terms of incorporating all relevant data, these evaluations are often time consuming. The amount of time required to conduct such a comprehensive assessment may be beyond the patience of the court and the willingness of individuals to release needed relevant data. One of the leaning objectives of this section of the workshop is being able to decide which type of assessment is needed and appropriate in difficult cases. In this workshop both best practices of performing sex offender risk assessments and ways of reporting our findings to the court will be presented.  Case examples will be provided as well as opportunity for discussion.      


Learning Objectives:

Participants will be able to identify the issues that arise in evaluating competency to stand trial in defendants raising sovereign citizen issues.

Participants will be able to describe what a “frequent flyer is,” and the unique issues this population brings to competency evaluations.

Participants will be able to distinguish different reasons defendants may present for multiple competency evaluations.

Participants will demonstrate an understanding of the different types of sex offenders.

Participants will be able to distinguish sexual predators from non-sexual predator sex offenders using the New York State SORA definitions.

Participants will attain a fuller understanding of the NYS article 10 law and demonstrate an awareness of the process by which a released inmate may be held indeterminately in a locked psychiatric facility following incarceration.


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