Sapience offers both criminal and civil forensic services.  We identify the issues unique to your case and our experts will offer you options for addressing your needs, from pre-trial or pre-litigation consultation, to structured forensic psychological assessment, to testifying on psychological or psychiatric concepts.  Our experienced team can provide one or more experts in a range of substantive areas to support the needs of your particular case.

Criminal Law

Competency to Stand Trial

Competency to Stand Trial requires that a defendant understands the nature and purpose of the legal proceedings against him and be able to effectively cooperate with counsel in his defense.  To understand the proceedings, a defendant must be able to comprehend the charges against him and the penalties if convicted.  He must also have some level of understanding of courtroom procedure and the functions of those who participate in it.  To cooperate with counsel, he must be able to plan a legal strategy, be able to recall and relate pertinent facts and events, including his motives and actions at the time of the offense, and be able to testify in his behalf and to challenge prosecution witnesses.

Competency to Stand Trial cases is to determine whether a mental disorder, defect, or impairment precludes this understanding and cooperation.  Psychological testing is given in competency to stand trial cases on an as needed basis, and psychological testing of malingering is often indicated.

Relevant Case Law

DUSKY v. UNITED STATES

Affirmed a defendant’s right to have a competency evaluation before proceeding to trial. The Court outlined the basic standards for determining competency.

INDIANA v. EDWARDS

The standard for competency to stand trial is not the same as for the right to self-representation.

PANETTI v. QUARTERMAN

The 8th Amendment requires an individual have a factual and rational understanding of his execution.

SEILING v. EYMAN

The standard for competence to plead guilty is the ability to make a reasoned choice from presented alternatives and to understand the consequences.

GODINEZ v. MORAN

The (Dusky) standard to waive constitutional rights is the same as for competency to stand trial.

Criminal Responsibility – Insanity Evaluations

When a defendant’s mental state at the time they committed an offense is at question, a criminal responsibility psychological evaluation or sanity evaluation may be requested by the court, defense, or prosecution.  Although the criteria for an insanity plea depends on the legal jurisdiction in which the crime was committed (see insanity tests below), the basis of an insanity plea rests on the basic premise that the defendant was not criminally responsible for their actions at the time of the offense due to the influence of a mental illness.  Utilizing relevant legal statutes and case law, Psycholegal Assessments, Inc. utilizes psychological testing and evaluation to address the criteria necessary for an insanity plea.

Relevant Case Law

AKE v. OKLAHOMA

A capital defendant is entitled to psychiatric evaluation of sanity at the time of the offense due to the Due Process Clause (14th Amendment).

JONES v. U.S.

A civilly committed individual may be hospitalized for longer than the criminal sentence he faces until not insane or dangerous.

DURHAM v. U.S.

The court determined that a defendant is not criminally responsible if the unlawful act was the product of a mental disease or defect. This led to what is known as the product test.

M’NAGHTEN

A defendant can be found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) if he did not know what he was doing or that it was wrong as a result of mental illness.

FOUCHA v. LOUISIANA

If a defendant does not have a mental illness, the defendant cannot be held in a mental institution because of dangerousness.

U.S. v. TORNIERO

A compulsion to gamble or substance abuse does not constitute insanity.

FRENDAK v. U.S.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found that a trial judge cannot impose an unwanted insanity defense on a competent defendant.

WASHINGTON v. U.S.

Psychiatrists should not testify on the ultimate issue of insanity and should only opine on how mental illness relates to the alleged offense. 

Psychological Evaluations of Juvenile Offenders

Psychological evaluations of juvenile offenders may be ordered by the court at the request of either the prosecution or the defense, or the defense may elect to have an evaluation completed for the court’s consideration in sentencing.  In order to reduce recidivism and provide rehabilitation for juvenile offenders, our thorough psychological evaluations will uncover factors that will help the court to make decisions about the best interests of the juvenile. The report will present conclusions regarding psychological problems associated with the juvenile’s criminal activity, specific recommendations for treatment, and a prognosis regarding the likelihood of repeat offenses in the future, with and without treatment.

Juvenile Waiver Evaluations (Transfer to Adult Court)

A juvenile who is accused of a serious crime can, in certain circumstances, be tried as an adult, in adult criminal court. A psychological evaluation for the purposes of transfer hearings is essential for identifying several factors that may be helpful to the court in making determinations.  The five factors include age of youth, nature of the crime, amenability to treatment and risk. The evaluations often require the administration of psychological tests of personality, intelligence, adaptive ability, and academic achievement

Evaluation of Juvenile Competency to Stand Trial

As with adult Competency Evaluations, we carefully assess the juvenile’s ability to understand how and why he or she is being charged, the various aspects of the courtroom process, his or her ability to cooperate with the attorney in an effective manner.  Evaluations also include an assessment for feigning of incompetence and assess if there any mental deficits or conditions that would prevent ability to understand the proceedings.

Psychological Assessment of Mitigating Factors

A psychological evaluation can be an important aspect of a pre-trial or pre-sentencing to assist the court in understanding factors that may have affected the defendant’s judgment, perception, or intent.  The psychological evaluation includes a review of all relevant discovery material, a clinical interview, psychosocial history, past psychological treatment, and previous criminal offenses committed. Objective psychological testing is typically conducted to evaluate the presence of not only mental health conditions; but also psychopathy or personality characteristics that may be factors. The results are then presented in a clear, comprehensive psychological report that summarizes all relevant findings for the court.

Assessment of Malingering

A psychological evaluation to determine if an examinee is malingering, or faking symptoms, due to a perceived secondary gain. At times, individuals attempt to feign mental illness to avoid going to trial or to be found criminally insane and therefore not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI). Another instance in which an examinee may attempt to fake a mental illness is the evaluation of psychological damages in a personal injury lawsuit.

Sex Offender Evaluations

This evaluation entails the assessment of a client’s sexual offending history and readiness to change these behaviors. This evaluation also includes the assessment of the client’s general intellectual functioning, personality and emotional functioning.

All sex offender evaluations or psychosexual evaluations include a detailed risk assessment that includes use of actuarial instruments (when appropriate) and other research-based risk and protective factors.  Recidivism rates are not uniform across all sex offenders and once convicted, most sexual offenders are never re-convicted of another sexual offense.  First time sex offenders are significantly less likely to sexually re-offend than are those with previous sexual convictions.  In addition, for those sex offenders who have re-offended, the longer they remain in the community offense-free, the less likely they are to re-offend sexually (up to 50% for each 5-year period they remain offense free).  Research has found that contemporary cognitive-behavioral treatment for sex offenders is associated with reductions in sexual offense recidivism rates from 10% to 17% after approximately 5 years of follow-up.  Sexual offenders with a credible release plan are lower risk than sexual offenders without such a plan, and cooperation with supervision is a well-established factor that reduces risk (and non-compliance with supervision increases sexual re-offense risk).

Sapience Practice expert conducts sex offender risk assessments in a variety of contexts, including:

  • Sexually Violent Predator Evaluations in Arizona, California, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia and the Federal System
  • Sex Offender Risk Assessments for Sentencing
  • Criminal Trials (prosecution and defense)
  • Federal Sentencing Hearings (usually child pornography cases)
  • Sex Offender Risk Assessments for Parole Hearings

Death Penalty Evaluation

Intellectual Disability

A psychological evaluation will assess whether Intellectual disability (Atkins evaluation) Resulting in an exclusion for the death penalty.

Capital Mitigation

During the penalty phase, evidence is offered for aggravating or mitigating factors that can affect the sentencing. Death penalty statutes allow for several mitigating circumstances that require input from forensic psychiatry, forensic psychology, and neuropsychology.

In death penalty mitigation phase, forensic expert offer assistance in exploring the defendant’s life by interviewing the defendant and his family as well as reviewing any relevant records. The psychologist performed psychological testing and often diagnostic impressions with goals of describing the defendant in a sympathetic light to the jury in attempts to explain why he committed the crime

Relevant Case Law

ATKINS v. VIRGINIA

Intellectual disabled individuals cannot be executed.

HALL v. FLORIDA

Requiring defendants show an IQ test score of 70 or below before submission of additional intellectual disability evidence is unconstitutional.

FORD v. WAINRIGHT

An insane prisoner cannot be executed.

PANETTI v. QUARTERMAN

The 8th Amendment requires an individual have a factual and rational understanding of his execution.

Competency to Waive Miranda

A psychological evaluation will assess whether there are any cognitive problems or mental health disorders that may have impaired the defendant’s ability to waive Miranda rights knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily. Often, these evaluations are conducted to gain insight into the individual’s Competency to Confess or the validity of a Miranda waiver.

These evaluations typically involve interviews and review of records. Psychological tests are usually administered to assess the individual’s intelligence, adaptive abilities, and Miranda rights comprehension.

Civil Law

Mental Competency, Guardianship, and Developmental Disability Exam

A psychological evaluation to determine if an individual’s capacity (Testamentary capacity,  Donative capacity, Undue influence, & Financial Capacity).  The psychological evaluation includes a review of all relevant historical data, a clinical interview, psychosocial history, past psychological treatment; and include cognitive functioning along with memory capacity (if indicated), functional abilities (driving, living alone, etc) and ability to reason. These factors are important in determining whether an individual is currently capable of making decisions regarding their welfare and finances, and if a guardian should be appointed.

Assessing Emotional Sequelae of Injuries/ Psychological Injury in Civil Cases

Many individuals who are physically injured suffer emotional consequences. These might be a consequence of accidents, disasters, employment discrimination or criminal victimization. Such conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, depression, or anxiety can occur. The nature and severity of the condition determines both the amount of pain and suffering as well as the types and frequency of interventions required to ameliorate their condition. The forensic psychologist can determine whether there is a psychological disturbance(s) and whether this disturbance is caused by the event being considered. The forensic psychologist can also provide the lawyer with an estimate of the cost for treatment.

Workers Compensations Evaluations

Workers Compensation Evaluations to assess emotional harm and mental health conditions resulting from work-related accidents and stress. Our experts are available to evaluate the individual, to assess the job situation, and to evaluate the relationship between the work-related injury or stress and the identified psychological issues.

Assessment of Malingering

Workers Compensation Evaluations to assess emotional harm and mental health conditions resulting from work-related accidents and stress. Our experts are available to evaluate the individual, to assess the job situation, and to evaluate the relationship between the work-related injury or stress and the identified psychological issues.

Family Law

Child Custody Evaluation

A court may require custody evaluations when parents cannot agree on who should get custody of children or settle on a visitation plan. An evaluation consists of a mental health expert examining a family, and then making a recommendation to the court for custody or visitation plans that are in a child’s best interests. Evaluations ordered by a court are not confidential, as any information gathered can be brought into court and the evaluator used as an expert witness if the case goes to trial.

The Process of a Child Custody Evaluation

Assessments often include multiple interviews with each parent, interviews with each child, home visits, psychological testing, parent-child observations, interviews with professional collateral sources (doctors, teachers, coaches, etc.), non-professional collateral interviews (friends and family), and extensive document reviews.

Once finished, the evaluator will present findings and make recommendations about what is in your children’s best interest. These findings and recommendations may include: legal and physical custody, final decision-making, visitation and a parenting plan, outlining how parents should resolve future conflicts.

All child custody evaluations must be court ordered.

Parental Fitness Evaluation

Parental fitness evaluations may include interviews with parents and children, psychological testing, observations, review of records (health, academic, etc.), and interviewing collateral contacts such as teachers, daycare providers or family physicians. Child protection laws try to reconcile the rights of parents to care for their children with the inherent interest of keeping a child safe.

According to professional guidelines, the evaluation addresses the particular psychological and developmental needs of the child and/or parent that are relevant to child protection issues such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional harm.

Referrals for parent fitness evaluations can be court-ordered, with the emphasis placed on finding what’s in the best interest of the child or requested by attorney in child custody matters.  The scope of an evaluation is based on the nature of the questions surrounding the referral and is left up to the evaluator. The main purpose of it is to obtain professionally sound opinions in matters where a child’s welfare may have been or may be harmed.

Parent fitness evaluations focus heavily on providing in-depth results about a parent’s psychological functioning and ability to function as a parent. During parent fitness evaluations, if there are findings of abuse or neglect, there may be an assumption of custody by the state or to another parent at least until there is an implementation of a rehabilitation plan. Then reevaluation may occur before deciding on parental rights.

What parent-child relationship factors are looked for in a parental fitness evaluation?

  • quality of relationship
  • presence of emotional closeness
  • how parents view and know their children
  • how children view their parents
  • how a parent responds to child’s needs
  • ability for parent to promote child’s development