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Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases


Assessments before trial are prior to any establishment of guilt or innocence. Offences remain alleged offences. Te mental health assessment might be focused on a specific competency, or competencies. Tese may require retrospective evaluation of the defendant’s mental state, in relation to their having understood a caution, their fitness to be interviewed, or the reliability of confessions. Others, which might be considered to be more straightforward, will relate to the defendant’s current mental state and the impact of this on a specific ability, including fitness to plead and stand trial, and fitness to waive the right to legal representation. Other assessments conducted pre-trial will relate to mental condition defences, as well as to psychiatric evidence potentially relevant to non-psychiatric defences such as provocation, or the capacity to have formed the required intention for the offence charged, and these are considered in the next chapter.


Principles of assessing pre-trial issues General principles of assessment will apply (see earlier chapter):


• Full psychiatric assessment


• Review all available information, specifically that which is contemporary to the alleged offence, arrest and police interviewing • Transcripts and recordings of police interviews • Custody records • Any medical findings during police custody, including in relation to fitness to be detained and to be interviewed


• Witness statement observations of behaviour or demeanour, where relevant to a pre- trial issue


• Specialist testing, including suggestibility and compliance; also intelligence and personality testing by a qualified psychologist (see Chapter 5)


Competence to understand a police caution


Te expert must use all the available information in order to attempt to reconstruct the likely mental state at the time a police caution was delivered. Tis should include any witness statements referring to demeanour or behaviour, descriptions of the defendants’ response to the caution at the time, and consideration of the way in which understanding was checked. If possible complete transcripts should be read, although the caution is unlikely to be included.


Additionally, if a doctor or other health professional has seen a defendant, their contemporaneous notes should be considered.


Te assessment of the defendant should also include their recollection of the caution, their understanding now of the police caution and some attempt to test their understanding of components of it. Te assessment is not conducted simply in order to note the presence of any mental disorder or vulnerability at the time the caution was given, but to interpret the impact of any likely mental abnormality on their ability to comprehend the caution.


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