The Mick Jagger of Competency

The Mick Jagger of Competency

Dr. Thomas Grisso, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychiatry, Director of Psychology and the Director of the Law-Psychiatry Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Dr. Grisso is the man.  He is the grandfather of all that is competency.  He created the screening tools and wrote the books that all evaluators rely on in determining the competency of a client.   Dr. Grisso covered a lot of ground in the two hours he spoke to the captive audience.  But, his focus was to talk about the individuals who are incompetent, but don’t have a mental illness or a diagnostic disorder, and to help the audience challenge the competency evaluation.

He pointed out cases and numerous peer reviewed articles that state that determining competency in juvenile cases should not be limited to whether the juvenile has a mental disorder, but whether they can truly understand and appreciate the legal aspects of their case.

Dr. Grisso showed the parallel between juveniles and those from other cultures.  He indicated that the  most prevalent and rising category of individuals who are incompetent are those with cultural incompetence, the immigrants.  One million immigrants (plus) come to the United States annually, and we are at a historic peak since 2005. The countries contributing the largest numbers are Myanmar (Burma), Nepal (Bhutan), Iraq, and Somalia.  Many of these people, like juveniles, do not have a mental disorder, but they do not understand what a “right” is or how to assert it because they don’t have such rights in the countries they come from.   He suggested that the context of the case should be adjusted to avoid findings of legal incompetence in these instances.

Dr. Grisso then presented and carefully supported eight points to challenge competency examinations and reports:

1.  Why didn’t the evaluator use a Competence to Stand Trial (CST) tool?

2.  Why did the examiner only use a CST tool?

3.  Does the examiner know the CST manual?

4.  Testing conditions.

5.  Is the tool valid for this examinee?

6.  Do not accept that “this tool is valid.”

7.  Avoid making legal conclusions on a test alone.

8.  Experts should not opine on competency or incompetency based on a test.

The presentation went too fast, was well grounded, and extremely moving— just like Mick Jagger.



Iris Eytan is a Partner at Reilly Pozner LLP. She practices Criminal Defense with an emphasis in mental health defenses.