Below are some questions that deal with issues of civil competence: a. Is a person competent to manage his or her financial affairs? b. Can an individual make competent decisions about his or her medical or psychiatric treatment? c. Is a person competent to execute a will and decide how to distribute property to heirs or other beneficiaries? d. Can a person make advance decisions about the kind of medical treatment he or she wants or does not want to receive if terminally ill or seriously injured?
(Greene, Heilburn, Fortune and Nietzel, 2006). A good example in which civil competency was exercised is a 1990 federal statute known as the Patient Self-Determination Act. This law allowed patients to come up with their respective advance medical directives or instructions on what kind of medical treatment should be accorded to them in the event that they become incapacitated and incompetent to decide for themselves. Provided that they gave instructions under the premise of informed consent, their wishes would be respected.
The “living will” – a patient’s preference to death over being kept alive on ventilator or feeding tubes – is the most controversial of these advance directives (Greene, Heilburn, Fortune and Nietzel, 2006). Civil Commitment and Risk Assessment The concepts of civil commitment and risk assessment are closely related to the issue of competency to consent to treatment. Civil commitment pertains to the process in which a judge decides to have an individual hospitalized for psychological or psychiatric treatment against his or her own will.
Risk assessment, meanwhile, refers to the prediction of a person’s likelihood to commit violence in the future (Bartol, 2004). A judge’s decision to impose civil commitment to an individual is based mostly on the results of the risk assessment that was performed by the forensic psychologist. Although the grounds for ordering civil commitment may vary depending on the state, the party that is seeking the commitment must always be able to prove that the individual is mentally ill and is need of treatment.
Furthermore, the impairment must reach the point that the person is already a danger to self or others or unable to meet his or her basic needs. But this does not mean that the ideas of civil commitment and risk assessment are not without controversy. They, in fact, raised debates about sexual predators being made to undergo involuntary psychological or psychiatric treatment. Another dispute in which they were associated with was the confinement of persons that were found not guilty on the basis of insanity (Bartol, 2004). Judge or Jury?
Judge and jury trial verdicts have their respective advantages and disadvantages. Most citizens believe that a jury decision has more procedural fairness. A jury, after all, is composed of at least 12 people with varying opinions about a given case. In the process of deliberation, therefore, there would be greater thoroughness, better community representation and fewer personal biases. A jury verdict, however, is rarely reversed. Not-guilty rulings are almost always considered as final regardless of their validity (Greene, Heilburn, Fortune and Nietzel, 2006).
A judge’s decision, on the other hand, is more accurate in the sense that it is almost always patterned after legal technicalities. Because a judge has nobody else to consult his findings with, he or she would most likely turn to relevant academic works for validation. But the downside to this is that there might be certain angles in the case that he or she is handling that were overlooked. Thus, judge verdicts can be overturned on appeal (Greene, Heilburn, Fortune and Nietzel, 2006). Conclusion The goal of forensic assessment is to provide objective and accurate information for fair legal determinations.
It accomplishes this objective mainly by determining if an individual is mentally fit to make an informed choice regarding a given situation. The finding, in turn, would become the basis if his or her wishes would be granted and or whether or not he or she would be punished for wrongdoing. The advent of forensic assessment, as well as of forensic psychology, just goes to show that the law has finally recognized the fact that there are special circumstances that are conducive to wrongdoing, such as insanity. References Bartol, C. R. (2004).
Introduction to Forensic Psychology. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, Inc. Greene, E. , Heilburn, K. , Fortune, W. H. , & Nietzel, M. T. (2006). Wrightman’s Psychology and the Legal System. Belmont, California: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning. Heilbrun, K. (2001). Principles of Forensic Mental Health Assessment (2nd ed. ). New York, New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers. Mart, E. G. (2006). Getting Started in Forensic Psychology Practice: How to Create a Forensic Specialty in Your Mental Health Practice. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.