Essay: Competent to Stand Trial

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[. . .] Civil commitment. Civil or involuntary commitment takes place when an individual is placed in a psychiatric ward or hospital against his or her will, but in compliance with the mental health laws stipulating time limitations and reevaluation at fixed intervals. The process is a stop-gap measure meant to deal with the urgent need for a psychiatric evaluation. If hospitalization is to continue, a court order must be obtained. Further, the involuntarily hospitalized individual can challenge with habeas corpus, and is provided with legal counsel. Involuntary commitment is used for observation, containment of danger, and treatment of illness.

Is Competency Overrated?

The story arc and Streisand's portrayal of the disturbed woman made it difficult to be certain of the state of mind of the woman whose role she so aptly played. Since the character is such an excellent protagonist, the audience is strongly "for" her and wants her to be sane. The character is feisty, stingingly critical, and skillfully uses people's psychological vulnerabilities to unsettle and unbalance them. The constellation of behavior that the character exhibits indicates a person who is control of their faculties, but has a hostile orientation toward others and rejects the rules and morality of the society in which she lives. The point at which I decided that she must surely be sane was during the scene in the lock-up facility where the protagonist introduces her attorney to a woman "psychiatrist" -- completely duping him -- followed by the scene where she protests the attorney's invasion of her privacy in his efforts to obtain clothing for her to wear at the hearing. That situation could have gone seriously wrong, but the defendant lowered her voice while she pressed her point. She was clearly very angry -- feeling at once betrayed and violated -- but she recognized that there were bigger stakes than her pride. This represented clarity of mind, being in touch with the reality of her situation, and the ability to contribute to her own defense by making reasoned decisions. This demonstration of her capacity to govern her emotions and curb her prevalent mouthiness -- as well as her gradually strengthening efforts to do the same in the courtroom -- gave her some traction with her attorney and with the judge. It was in her best interest to maintain that she was competent, because it was essential for her to be able to relay the circumstances that led her to kill the man who turned on her.

A Danger to Herself

The catalyst for the prosecutor to ask the psychiatrist, "Is she dangerous?" must have been the seemingly irrationality of her attack on the first defending attorney -- and her attack on the woman in prison who "made a pass" at her with physical overtures. A person can be violent and be competent. But the nature of the violence that a person might exhibit and the triggers for violent behavior are qualitative variables that can reasonably be considered aspects of competence. In as much as the woman's testimony regarding her abuse as a child is a platform to explain some of her erratic behavior, it is relevant to the hearing on competence. This is particularly true since the tact taken by the prosecuting attorney was to point out how being a call-girl was irreconcilable with the family's social position. The prosecution argued that the woman's unwillingness to take money from her parents in order to sustain herself after her marriage failed, and instead turned to prostitution was further demonstration of the woman not being in her right mind.


Insanity defense. (n.d) The Legal Dictionary. Retrieved

Nuts. (1987) The Internet Movie Database (IMDb). Retrieved / title/tt0093660/

Melton, GB, Petrila, J, Pytheress, NG, and Slobogin, C. (2011) Psychological Evaluation for the Courts: A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers (2nd ed.) Guilford Publishers. Retrieved

Roesch, R, Zapf, PA, Golding, SL, and Skeem, JL (2004, February) Defining and Assessing Competency to Stand Trial. Golding Publications. Retrieved

Riley, GC, Bastecki, WS, Bayer, CR, Greenfield, GT, Krivacska, JJ, and Tate, JW. (2003) Inside Civil Commitment: Competing Rights, Competing Interests. IPT Forensics (13). Adult Diagnostic & Treatment Center, Inmate Resident Committee, Legal Subcommittee. Retrieved [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cite This Essay:

APA Format

Competent to Stand Trial.  (2011, September 30).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from

MLA Format

"Competent to Stand Trial."  30 September 2011.  Web.  22 July 2019. <>.

Chicago Format

"Competent to Stand Trial."  September 30, 2011.  Accessed July 22, 2019.