Competency to Stand Trial: A Practitioner’s Guide

  • Amanda Beltrani John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York
  • Sara Hartigan
  • Julia Besser Texas Woman's University
  • Laura Cooney-Koss Forensic Associates of Delaware, LLC.
  • Kathy J. Harowski
  • Blake R. Harris
  • Anthony Wartnik Concordia University, St. Paul
  • Jerrod Brown Concordia University, St. Paul; Forensic Scholars Today; Pathways Counseling Center, Inc.


Competency to stand trial can be defined as a defendant’s ability to understand court proceedings, make educated legal decisions, provide testimony, conduct one’s self consistent with the standards of the court, fill out legal paper work without errors, and positively contribute to the development and execution of one’s legal defense. Competency to stand trial evaluations are integral in ensuring the protection of due process rights guaranteed in the United States constitution. This article aims to introduce criminal justice, forensic mental health, and legal professionals to the various componets and processes associated with this topic of evaulation.

Keywords: Case law, Competency to stand trial (CST), defendant, evaluation

Author Biographies

Amanda Beltrani, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York

Amanda Beltrani, MA, graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York with her Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, professional decision-making, and bias awareness. Amanda hopes to one day continue her studies in a doctoral program examining issues relevant to Forensic Mental Health Assessments. 




Sara Hartigan

Sara Hartigan is a second-year Forensic Psychology Master’s student at John Jay and will be joining Richard Rogers' lab at the University of North Texas for her Ph.D. studies. Her main areas of interest include clinical evaluations and developing treatment interventions within the forensic population. 

Julia Besser, Texas Woman's University

Julia Besser, MA, is a former humanitarian aid worker who is currently earning her PhD in Counseling Psychology with a focus on corrections and policy making. She teaches undergraduate coursework in Psychopathology and Professional Development and serves as the President of the Graduate Student Council at Texas Woman’s University. Her current research focuses on how the punitive criminal dilemma is affected by issues of competency and the complexity of detecting malingering. Her doctoral research is guided by her years of experience within the Texas state prison system, a forensic psychiatric hospital and a substance use treatment center. 

Laura Cooney-Koss, Forensic Associates of Delaware, LLC.

Laura Cooney-Koss, Psy.D. M.CJ. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Delaware and New Jersey and is the owner and Clinical Director of Forensic Associates of Delaware, LLC. Dr. Cooney-Koss and the clinicians in this practice specialize in conducting psychological evaluations for a variety of legal referral questions and providing training for the community and professionals on forensic clinical issues. 

Kathy J. Harowski

Kathy J. Harowski, PhD, LP is a clinical psychologist with expertise in forensic and health psychology. She has worked in a wide range of public sector settings and is currently working for the Minnesota Department of Human Services as a behavioral medicine practitioner at St Peter Security Hospital. Dr. Harowski is an experienced teacher and trainer who has worked in higher education teaching and developing curriculum for undergraduate and graduate students in psychology, criminal justice and forensic psychology.

Blake R. Harris

Blake R. Harris, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Forensic Psychologist practicing in Austin, Texas. He currently works as a psychological services manager with the Travis County Juvenile Probation Department and oversees the clinical services in secured residential placement and outpatient settings. Dr. Harris has also been involved in the treatment and evaluation of violent offenders, individuals adjudicated Incompetent to Stand Trial, and those found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity. In particular, he enjoys supervising doctoral interns and postdoctoral fellows as well as conducting forensic risk assessments. 


Anthony Wartnik, Concordia University, St. Paul

Anthony P. Wartnik was a trial judge for 34 years, serving as Presiding Judge of Juvenile Court, Family Law Court Chief Judge, Dean Emeritus of the Washington Judicial College, as Judicial College Board of Trustees chair, and as chair of the Washington State Supreme Court’s Judicial Conference Education Committee. He is nationally and internationally recognized as a speaker, author and trainer on issues involving FASD and the law. Judge Wartnik also serves as an adjunct instructor at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota. 

Jerrod Brown, Concordia University, St. Paul; Forensic Scholars Today; Pathways Counseling Center, Inc.
Jerrod Brown, MA, MS, MS, MS, is the Treatment Director for Pathways Counseling Center, Inc. Pathways provides programs and services benefiting individuals impacted by mental illness and addictions. Jerrod is also the founder and CEO of the American Institute for the Advancement of Forensic Studies (AIAFS), and the Editor-in-Chief of Forensic Scholars Today (FST) and the Journal of Special Populations (JSP). Jerrod holds graduate certificates in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Other Health Disabilities (OHD), and Traumatic-Brain Injuries (TBI).