What is a competency evaluation?

The State of Washington employs psychologists who specialize in forensic evaluations, such as competency evaluations as stipulated in RCW 10.77.  The evaluation typically involves a review of the defendant’s mental health history, education and work history.  The defendant participates in a clinical interview with a psychologist.  Occasionally, psychological testing is conducted.  Evaluations can be done at a state hospital, in the jail setting, or at an attorney’s office, depending upon the defendant’s psychological condition and custody status.

Why is my son/daughter/client being evaluated for competency?

A defendant is evaluated for competency when concerns have been raised with the court, typically either by defense counsel or prosecution, that the defendant is not capable of properly participating in his or her own defense due to mental health symptoms. 

What does it mean to be found “not competent?” 

Under RCW 10.77, the law which governs this process, a person can be found not competent on the basis of being diagnosed with a mental disease or defect which prevents them from understanding court proceedings and/or being able to rationally assist in his/her own defense.

What is “competency restoration?”

When a defendant is found not competent, the State of Washington is ordered to provide treatment to the individual to bring them back to competency.  Restoration treatment typically involves admission to a Forensic Services unit, where other individuals are participating in the program.  Treatment typically includes educational, therapeutic and recreational activities.  It also may include administration of psychotropic medications. DSHS provides competency restoration treatment at Western State Hospital, Eastern State Hospital, and also at two Residential Treatment facilities - one in Yakima and one at the former Maple Lane School near Centralia.

How long is competency restoration treatment?

The court order typically states that an individual will participate in treatment for a specified number of days.  If an individual exhibits substantial improvements in psychiatric and psychological functioning, they can be re-evaluated for competency to stand trial. If found competent to stand trial, then they can be returned to jail and continue with their case.  If, after the first period or treatment, the court continues to find the individual incompetent, the court can order another treatment period.  There are cases when an individual is found not to be restorable in a “reasonable period” (typically longer than six months).  If this occurs, charges against a patient may be temporarily dismissed, and the individual may be admitted to a civil psychiatric unit at a hospital for continued treatment. If this same individual is later found competent to stand trial, the prosecuting attorney can then re-open the case and court proceedings can continue. This process is known as “dismissed with prejudice.”

What happens when someone is found competent?

When a defendant is found competent, that individual is returned to the jail.  A hearing will be set to formalize the court’s opinion on whether he/she is competent and ready to participate in adjudication. 

What if the attorney doesn’t agree with the court’s opinion that the individual is competent?

The defense counsel has the right to hold a formal hearing in which the defense can bring an expert to testify that the individual is not competent and the state will bring its expert witness to testify that he/she is competent. The defendant has the right to testify in this hearing. After the judge hears testimony and arguments, he/she will make a decision on the defendant’s competency. 

Can I visit someone who is participating in competency restoration?

Yes, visiting is possible.  You should call the facility where the individual resides to get more information regarding visitation hours and procedures.

Maple Lane Competency Restoration Program – (360) 664-4641

Yakima Competency Restoration Program – (509) 317-2710

Western State Hospital – (253) 582-8900

Eastern State Hospital – (509) 565-4000

I have questions about my family member.  Who can I contact?

Who you should contact depends on the type of question you have.  The attorney assigned to your family member would be a good resource to start with.  If you don’t have his/her contact information you can look up the attorney at  https://www.mywsba.org/PersonifyEbusiness/Default.aspx?TabID=1536.