See how courts determine whether suspects are mentally competent for trial

Published: Apr. 5, 2018 at 6:13 PM EDT
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(04/05/18) - Determining whether someone is competent to stand trial has major implications for the entire case.

Most recently, Central Michigan University shooting suspect James Davis Jr. was found incompetent, but he will receive treatment in an effort to regain competency.

Whether we are talking about the CMU shooting suspect or any other high profile criminal case, Dr. Jeannette Stein says, "Being diagnosed with a mental illness does in no way mean that someone is incompetent."

Stein is chairwoman of the University of Michigan Flint's psychology department. After a mental health professional creates a report, she says there are two main things the court takes into consideration.

"Has this person been diagnosed with a mental illness, so that's important, but it's not enough. They also have to take into consideration, did the mental illness, you know, is the mental illness causing the person to be unable to stand trial," she explained. "Could they communicate appropriately with their attorney, do they understand their rights, do they understand the consequences," Stein said.

James Davis Jr., the man accused of killing his parents in his CMU dorm room, was found incompetent to stand trial. Then there's 34-year-old Timothy Green, another recent case of someone found incompetent. He's accused of brutally attacking a woman in a downtown Saginaw building. Both Davis and Green will be re-evaluated at later dates after treatment.

"So if they have been diagnosed with a mental illness, the treatment is going to depend on the diagnosis itself. Very often medication is involved," Stein said. "Depending on the diagnosis there might be some cognitive behavioral therapy where they're sort of taught to recognize the triggers for their thoughts, challenging those thoughts, creating sort of different kind of thinking about the world and managing their behavior."

Dr. Stein says typically it's no more than 4 to 6 months before someone is re-assessed for competency.