The Role of Psychological Assessment in the Criminal Process


Criminal proceedings mostly start with an arrest. The case could escalate into prosecution and sentence, depending on the outcome of a trial procedure. During the criminal process, a suspect has specific rights at every stage. On the other hand, police may question offenders without arresting them if suspected of committing a crime. However, a suspect has the right to remain silent until an attorney arrives. If valid reasons for standing trial are identified, a suspect is taken before a judge to take a plea within a given duration. Besides the processes of arrest, arraignment, pretrial, and trial in criminal proceedings, inadequate mental assessments can adversely affect the outcome of a case and may not reflect fairness in the course of seeking justice; hence, psychologists should assist in a competency hearing.

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Process of Arrest

After an arrest, police should inform an offender about constitutional privileges, which include the right to remain silent and access to an attorney. Suspects have the right to contact friends, relatives, or a lawyer. In the case of Tim Bronson, he responded to a reported burglary where he identified the offender from the descriptions given and arrested him. Upon arrest, there is limited time before an offender is charged or released. If held for a prolonged duration, a lawyer can request a judge to release the suspect (Thompson Reuters, n.d.-c). Thus, it is upon the police to decide whether to charge a suspect depending on the initial evidence.

Once an arrest has been made, an offender is retained. The suspect, Carlos Davidson, was arrested for violation of burglary statutes. In the process, personal details were recorded including name, place of residence, date of birth, fingerprints, and a photograph. In addition, a sample of the suspect’s handwriting is often recorded (Thompson Reuters, n.d.-c). In this process, the police officer should record all the details after an arrest and check previous criminal records of the suspect to collect more evidence.

In police custody, suspects do not have freedom of movement. In some cases, police use physical restraint, such as handcuffs, especially for aggressive offenders. However, if the suspect is cooperative, handcuffs may not be necessary, and offenders can be requested to present themselves in court (Thompson Reuters, n.d.-c). Through discretion, a law enforcer may apply power over an individual, whether involuntary or deliberate during an arrest.


After an arrest, an arraignment usually follows. Depending on the state, the indictment should transpire within 48-72 hours after arrest (Thompson Reuters, n.d.-a). During an arraignment process, a judge states charges and informs suspects about their rights before the case proceeds. If an offender cannot afford a lawyer, the court may appoint a government advocate. If Davidson is presented to the court, he will be charged with burglary. The accused takes a plea of “not guilty” or “guilty.” During the arraignment, the judge may determine whether to grant bail to the accused, announce a future date for the case, or set a particular day of trial (Thompson Reuters, n.d.-a). Preliminary hearings are conducted based on specific documents including charge sheets and police reports. Hence, a suspect should be presented in court to take a plea, while a judge may either grant or deny bail and set a particular date for case proceedings.

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After a preliminary hearing, the case proceeds to trial where the defense team and the prosecutor appear before a judge for pre-trial motions. During this session, both parties present arguments, such as why certain individuals should be barred from testifying, reasons for dismissing the case, and the admissibility of particular evidence. During this session, the prosecution and defense set boundaries for the final trial (Thompson Reuters, n.d.-b). The pretrial session is important for the prosecutor, judge, and defense team since it sets standards agreeable to all parties before the case begins.

Competency Hearing

A competency hearing process entails a mental assessment of the accused persons to ensure that they can stand trial. Hence, a psychologist may conduct the exercise to reveal whether a suspect can understand court proceedings (Beltrani, Zapf, & Brown, 2015). Medical experts evaluate the mental state of the defendant by asking questions to determine if the accused is mentally fit to stand trial and present the findings to the court (Beltrani et al., 2015). Thus, the assessment report created after a competency hearing is crucial since it gives the direction the case would take.

During the final trial, medical experts will testify and justify the information collected in the competency evaluation. The judge will make a final decision on whether the defendant is fit to stand trial after listening to all presentations. Report by psychologist has a significant impact on the course of the trial process. In case the defendant is regarded unfit for trial, the case may be adjourned (Beltrani et al., 2015). The judge may suggest psychiatric care to restore the competency of the accused before recommencing the trial. Hence, after expert analysis, the judge determines whether the accused is fit to stand trial.

Role of a Psychologist

Psychologists serve as consultants and advise the courts on some issues, especially the mental conditions of an accused person. The services of a psychologist may be requested during the pretrial, trial, and post-trial. Medical experts make evaluations of mental competence to determine whether a defendant can stand trial. Under civil cases, the experts advise the court on the capability of a given person to manage the property, finances, or businesses. Additionally, they may appear in court as witnesses in cases involving child custody. Experts who have worked as counselors can serve as a witness in personal injury cases (Kaslow, 1979). Evidently, psychologists play a significant role in court proceedings since they can evaluate an individual’s state of mind before trial.


Psychologists use the Competency Assessment Instrument (CAI) to evaluate mental fitness. The instrument was developed to complement the Competency Screening Test (CST) whose role was to quantify the competence to stand trial. The experts use such approaches when asking questions during a suspect’s mental assessment (Nicholson, Robertson, Johnson, & Jensen, 2008). Therefore, CAI is employed by most psychologists to assess the mental status of an individual before the trial.


The trial process begins after an offender is arrested. However, an arrest should not criminalize a suspect. After being detained and questioned by police, a person may be released or taken to court within a stipulated time. Accused individuals undergo a full legal process to ascertain whether they are guilty or innocent. In some cases, the court or the lawyer may request a pretrial competency, which is conducted by psychiatrists or psychologists to assess a suspect’s mental state. Suspects are not criminals; hence, police should gather enough evidence before presenting the offender to the court. In addition, the mental status of a suspect should be examined before the trial begins to ensure fairness during the process.



Beltrani, A. M., Zapf, P. A., & Brown, J. (2015). Competency to stand trial what forensic psychologists need to know. Forensic Psychology Today, 1(2), 1-5.

Kaslow, F. W. (1979). Psychologist as consultant to the court In J. J. Platt and R. J. Wicks (Editors), The psychological consultant. New York: Grune and

Nicholson, R., Robertson, H., Johnson, W., & Jensen, G. (2008). A comparison of instruments for assessing competency to stand trial. Law and Human Behavior, 22(6), 313-321.

Thompson Reuters. (n.d.-a). Arraignment. FindLaw. Retrieved from

Thompson Reuters. (n.d.-b). Pre-trial motions. FindLaw. Retrieved from

 Thompson Reuters. (n.d.-c). Chronology: The arrest process. FindLaw. Retrieved from

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