Fitness Interview Test-Revised (FIT-R): A Structured Interview for Assessing Competency to Stand Trial

Article excerpt

Fitness Interview Test-Revised (FIT-R): A Structured Interview for Assessing Competency to Stand Trial, by Ronald Roesch, Patricia A. Zapf, and Derek Eaves, (Sarasota, FL: Professional Resource Press, 2006), 76 pp. + CD-rom, $45.00.

Brief summaries of the United States Supreme Court case of Godinez v. Moran (1993) describe the Court's ruling as saying that the standard for various criminal competencies (competency to plead guilty, to waive counsel, to stand trial) are the same (e.g., Hobson, 1999; Perlin, 2002). Not so. Justice Thomas, writing for the majority, wrote, "Requiring that a criminal defendant be competent has a modest aim: It seeks to ensure that he has the capacity to understand the proceedings and to assist counsel. While psychiatrists and scholars may find it useful to classify the various kinds and degrees of competence, and while states are free to adopt competency standards that are more elaborate than the Dusky formulation, the Due Process Clause does not impose these additional requirements" (509 U.S. 389, 400, emphasis added).

In practice, since Godinez, even without new legislation, some state courts have ruled that what David Shapiro has called "competency shmompetency" (if you've got one competency, you've got them all) does not apply. For example, in Florida the state supreme court held that a person can be competent to stand trial but not competent to decide to proceed pro se:

The district court of appeal certified the following question to be of great public importance: MAY A DEFENDANT BE MENTALLY COMPETENT TO STAND TRIAL YET STILL LACK THE ABILITY TO MAKE AN INTELLIGENT AND UNDERSTANDING CHOICE TO PROCEED WITHOUT COUNSEL UNDER FLORIDA RULE OF CRIMINAL PROCEDURE 3.111(D)(3)? Both parties concede that it is well settled that a defendant may be competent to stand trial yet lack the ability to knowingly and intelligently waive counsel. We agree and therefore discharge jurisdiction. It is so ordered" (Visage v. State, 1996, citations omitted).

It is that simple to fix the apparent competency-shmompetency problem raised by Godinez, state by state, and competency by competency. It is a pet peeve of mine that commentators summarize Godinez as saying that competencies are unitary, rather than writing that the U.S. Supreme Court has held that the U.S. Constitution does not require finer distinctions but states are free to do so. The former description promotes fatalism, and the latter description promotes curative action. One type of curative action involves attorneys, trial judges, and appeals-court judges working through the normal appeals process, post-Godinez, as in the Visage case just cited. That process establishes case law allowing for separate criteria for various competencies. Another type of curative action involves citizens contacting legislatures to encourage them to "adopt competency standards that are more elaborate than the Dusky formulation."

Meanwhile, back at the county jails, psychiatrists and psychologists are conducting competency evaluations. This review addresses whether the FIT-R can contribute to those assessments. Five points emerge (see DeClue, 2003, for additional discussion of the first three):

1. Evaluators should routinely use a forensic assessment instrument (FAI) in assessments of adjudicative competence.

2. There is a great need for a good screening procedure.

3. The FIT-R shows great promise for screening.

4. The FAI should facilitate a nuanced assessment of criminal competencies, including competence to waive rights, and should facilitate collection of preliminary data regarding confession issues.

5. The FIT-R provides a solid, structured foundation for comprehensive assessment of criminal competencies.


The FIT-R is a semistructured clinical interview, with 16 brief sections, designed to assist in the assessment of adjudicative competence (also known as competence to proceed, fitness to stand trial, etc. …