Insanity findings and evaluation practices: A state‐wide review of court‐ordered reports – 2018

Evaluations of legal sanity are some of the most complex and consequential mental health evaluations that forensic clinicians perform for the courts. Thus, there is strong reason to monitor the wide‐scale process and conclusions of sanity evaluations. In this study, we review 1,111 court‐ordered sanity evaluation reports submitted by 74 evaluators in Virginia from the first year after the state initiated an oversight system that allowed for such comprehensive review. Overall, the base rate of insanity findings was 16.9%, although base rates of insanity findings among individual evaluators varied from 0% to 50%. Similarly, most evaluators cited the cognitive (rather than volitional) criteria of the insanity defense as the basis for their insanity findings, although evaluators varied in their patterns of citing these underlying insanity criteria. Our review revealed other trends in practice, such as the rarity of psychological testing (2% of cases) and the frequency of conveying conclusions in “ultimate issue” format (76%). Overall, findings reveal that a majority of reports seem reasonably consistent with practice guidelines, but also reveal some idiosyncratic practices or patterns that suggest there is opportunity for improvement.

Brett O. Gardner Daniel C. Murrie Angela N. Torres
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, 02 May 2018