Restoring Competency to Stand Trial

More from this show

Accused of the mass shooting in Tucson, Jared Loughner was found mentally incompetent to stand trial. He is now undergoing treatment in an attempt to restore competency. Phoenix-based forensic psychologist Michael B. Bayless discusses what it means, and what it takes, to restore mental competency.

Ted Simons: The courts have determined that accused Tucson shooter Jared Loughner is not mentally competent to stand trial. Loughner is being treated at a government facility where doctors are trying to restore his mental competency. But what does it mean and what does it take to get a defendant competent to stand trial? Here to tell us about that process is Dr. Michael Bayless, he's a Phoenix forensic psychologist. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining me. Define mental competency to stand trial.

Michael Bayless: Basic mental competency to stand trial is your ability to have a reasonable ability to hope your lawyer prepare a defense, and the second thing is that you have to have a rational, factual understanding of the consequences of entering a plea of guilty as well as a factual understanding of the nature and proceedings against you. The charges you're facing.

Ted Simons: So restoring competency in order to stand trial, define that as to what needs to be done. Do I have to understand? Do I have to be able to assist my attorney?

Michael Bayless: All of that together, separately and together. If you have -- do not have the ability to understand what is going on in a courtroom, it wouldn't go back to the basics, they need to understand who are the players in a courtroom. Who are the officers of the court. What does the judge do, what does the jury do, what does the prosecutor do, what does the defense attorney do. Those kinds of things. What charges are you facing. And why are you facing those charges? What role did you play in that process? And can you tell your lawyer what to place at the time that the office allegedly occurred. In addition to that, do you have a factual and rational understanding of what the charges mean? In other words, what are the consequences if you should plead guilty in a court of law, what happens to you? Do you understand that you have constitutional rights? You have a right a trial by jury, you have a right to a lawyer, you have a right to question witnesses who present evidence begins you. You have a right to present evidence in your own behalf. Do you understand that. So it's a complicated process, and if could you do not understand those things, then you're declared incompetent.

Ted Simons: How often who are people who are declared incompetent initially, how often are they restored?

Michael Bayless: Quite frequently. There are a lot of times those individuals who are suffering from mental illnesses that are treatable. And can at the time of which they now may be arrested, they're off their medication, they now have become somewhat delusional, they start -- they're having hallucinations or having other problems in thinking and judgment. With a consistent regime of medicines and behavioral treatment, they can be restored to competency.

Ted Simons: But now that restoration is there a limit? Could it be 15 years from now, five years from now? What kind of time limit?

Michael Bayless: Typically what happens that the judge will sentence a person to six months restoration, and in during that six months he expects to hear back from the psychologist, psychiatrist, the other social workers who are working in the restoration program. A report on that individual that says he is restorable, or he is not re-- he is competent now, or given a little more time, and he can become confident. And typically what happens there is that if they need more time then the limits are -- is set at 15 months. From the date they were found incompetent. Let's say they're right there at the edge, they still not have really got there yet. They can extend it to 21 months. After that, if the person is not competent, a non-restorable, then the case will be dismissed and there will be a civil commitment proceedings going forward.

Ted Simons: And that means in custody as it were, certainly not able to -- I look at this and I know some people will hear this and I think of the victims, and I think of justice and some sort of retribution. If he is forever in a hospital, but I guess the concept of punishment for one who is so mentally ill, twin tracks there.

Michael Bayless: Yeah. Punishment is -- from a psychologist's standpoint punishment is not a very effective means of controlling Hugh man behavior in the first place. We're not looking to punish individuals who suffer from mental illness. We're interested in treating them that. Does not mean a American who commits a horrendous crime when they take lives of innocent people, that they're declared incompetent and therefore they're going to be -- the case is dismissed and they walk the streets. That individual will be held in a state-run typically hospital, a psychiatric hospital. And will not be released until they are deemed as being non-dangerous to self and others in the community. We don't put those people back in the community. That may take five years that may take 15 years that may never happen.

Ted Simons: As far as restoring competency, if there's medicine involved, is it voluntary? Is it involuntary?

Michael Bayless: It can be both. If an individual refuses to take the medication, refuses to cooperate, the judge could rule that doctors have a right to give them the medication on a four spaces.

Ted Simons: Something else we were talking about, the whole concept of justice. A lot of folks are going to have a difficult time, I can tell. Seeing someone one who has killed six people and wounded 13 others being treated and then perhaps living a life that they don't feel he should be -- but beyond that, dispensary want to ask the question, I know we'll get letters on this.

Michael Bayless: OK.

Ted Simons: I want to ask, if he's competent to buy a gun. If he's confident enough to plan an attack on a certain individual, if he's confidence enough to go with you with that attack and in many ways succeed, how is that considered not competent to stand trial?

Michael Bayless: A person can suffer from a particular mental illness, and that will cause them to become delusional. They will fixate on a particular person or persons, company, whatever. And they become -- and that becomes part of their overall conspiracy. And it becomes very focused, typically over time they become more and more delusional or thinking becomes very impaired. Even though they understand what a gun is, they understand they can go get a gun. I personally think competent does not mean that they simply are not aware of anything that's going on around them. They're unconfident because they may suffer from a particular mental illness that prevents them from understanding what they're doing is wrong, and what they're doing is following their delusional thought process, and maybe somewhat especially in the area of paranoia we see it sometimes as being basic primes is faulty. The behavior and the thought process after it, if you buy the premise that this person is event and must die, the thought process after is very lodge cam. I've got to get a gun, I've got to stop this from hang, I've got to make sure I'm saving the world or whatever the thought process may be. It may be very logical. And therefore a person can buy a gun, they can camouflage themselves, hide and be secretive about it.

Ted Simons: Last question very quickly. Do you -- talking about delusions, schizophrenia, all mentioned already. Will he ever stand trial?

Michael Bayless: Very possibly. With paranoia-schizophrenia, it typically responds quite well to psychotropic medication, and we'll see. It -- you've got to case it on a case by case basis. Some people respond, some people don't.

Ted Simons: It's good have you here.

Michael B. Bayless: Forensic Pyschologist

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates

An armed forces bugler playing the trumpet in front of the United States Capitol building.
aired May 26

National Memorial Day Concert 2024

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 26

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

Rachel Khong
May 29

Join us for PBS Books Readers Club!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: