I just read this article, which indicates the judge has found the defendant competent to stand trial. This case has reached national prominence; the defendant is accused of killing a beloved high school football coach in Iowa.
According to the article, there was no dispute between the various experts on the defendant's diagnosis: everyone agrees he suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. However, the judge agreed with the prosecution expert that, due to a positive response to treatment with medication, the defendant meets the critieria to proceed. From the article:
The judge said Becker's paranoid schizophrenia is "undisputed" but that an increased dosage of an anti-psychotic medication, along with findings of the prosecution's psychiatrist, lead him to believe Becker can understand the trial proceedings.
"The evidence indicates that Mr. Becker has sufficient ability to recall events which will be pertinent to his defense," Carroll wrote in the order. That includes Becker's ability to recall June 24, when Thomas was shot to death in the high school weight room in front of more than 20 students.
"Becker was able to recall and relate those events in a 'precise, chronologic, detailed, coherent manner,'" the judge wrote.
Carroll also agreed with the prosecution psychiatrist's finding that Becker suffers from auditory hallucinations. The judge said that because the hallucinations do not involve the legal system, and because Becker didn't experience hallucinations during the psychiatrist's interview, they likely won't interfere with his ability to assist with his own defense.
The last paragraph is related to a significant point. As I've noted in previous posts on the subject of competency to stand trial, the issue of competency is a functional analysis. That is, an evaluator has to assess to what degree an individual is capable of completing certain tasks. In the case of competency, the presence of a mental health disorder, even a significant one such as Schizophrenia, does not automatically preclude competency to stand trial. An evaluator must assess the degree to which the symptoms associated with the disorder impact the abilities required to meet the threshold in question. In this case, it appears as though all individuals agree not only on the diagnosis, but on a symptom that can significantly impair an individual (auditory hallucinations). However, even with a symptom like this, an assessment must be made as to whether the presence of this individual's symptom experience would impact the criteria for competency. In this case, it was determined the auditory hallucinations are not associated with a delusional belief system involveing the legal system; therefore, they do not impact the defendant's competency.
What this case may also highlight is the difference between various types of evaluations: in this case, competency to stand trial versus sanity at the time of the offense. Often people will confuse the two, or believe there is no differnce: "How can he be competent now when he was so crazy then? it's the same thing!" No, it isn't, and this case seems to prove why in at least one way: medication. An individual who engages in behaviors while experiencing the symptoms of a significant mental health problem may be taken into custody, where they then receive treatment, including medication. If the individual responds to the treatment, they may present as a whole lot better than how they looked before their arrest. It is certainly possible to be found competent to stand trial, but insane at the time of the offense, or vice versa. I am certainly interested in seeing how this case plays out from this perspective, as more information is made known.