Joe Gentz has been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of Jane Bashara.
Much has been made in the media about Gentz’s present mental condition, below-average intelligence and past psychological issues. In court on Monday, Gentz’s attorney requested that he undergo a competency evaluation. Many are wondering whether Gentz will be found competent to stand trial.
What is a competency evaluation?
A forensic evaluation is used to determine if a defendant is competent to stand trial. That is, whether the defendant is capable of understanding the nature and object of the proceedings, and capable of assisting the defense in a rational manner. The finding of competency is a low standard and the overwhelming number of defendants are found to be competent.
Competency and legal insanity are not the same issue. All that is being established at this point is whether Gentz understands what is going on and is able to assist his attorney in his defense.
Gentz’s competency evaluation will take place at the Michigan Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Saline, Michigan. This is a maximum security facility.
A major part of the evaluation is an interview with the forensic examiner. Gentz will be asked questions about himself and his legal problems. In addition, psychological tests are often given as a part of the evaluation. The forensic examiner will also get information from family members and friends and review psychiatric, medical and education records, if available.
Upon completion of the examination, the forensic examiner will write a report expressing his or her opinion as to whether Gentz is competent.
Based upon interviews and comments made by Gentz to the media, it is likely that the examiner will conclude that Gentz is competent to stand trial. Mr. Gentz appears to understand the nature of the proceedings and appears able to assist in his defense. Even if Gentz suffers from low intelligence, that is not the test for determining competency.
If, as expected, Gentz is found competent by the Forensic Center, his attorney will likely ask for an independent evaluation by another examiner. After all the reports are submitted to the court, the judge will make a legal determination as to whether Gentz is competent to stand trial. If competent, the case proceeds to the preliminary exam.
While Gentz’s preliminary examination is scheduled for March 16, it is likely to be adjourned at that time because the competency evaluations will probably not be completed by then.