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Mental illness Private attorneys Public defenders Pretrial psychiatric evaluations Competency to stand trial Criminal responsibility


This study compared the characteristics and court-ordered evaluation questions and responses among 4,430 defendants to determine if differences existed between those represented by public defenders and private attorneys when receiving trial competency or responsibility psychiatric evaluations from a state department of mental health. Defendants represented by public defenders were more likely to be younger, to have less education, to have psychotic disorders, to have a history of inpatient psychiatric treatment, to live in urban or rural counties, and to be jailed at the time of the evaluation. In addition, defendants represented by public defenders were less likely to have a request for a criminal responsibility evaluation and more likely to be evaluated as having a mental illness, to be incompetent to stand trial, and to need hospitalization pending trial. Consideration of whether defendants with public defenders receiving less requests for responsibility evaluations was indicative of a therapeutic jurisprudence approach is discussed. Implications for research on types of legal representation of defendants with mental illness are discussed.