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Please note that as of the summer of 2020, NBFE discontinued its newsletter, but we continue to post newsworthy items here on our news page.  To view the archived newsletters page, click here.

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  • 03 Jun 2016 2:41 PM | Anonymous

    Forensic Mental Health Evaluations and the Fine Line Between Sanity and Insanity

    A New York Times piece last month discussed Delawarean Toby Lopez: described in the first line of that piece as a “supremely ordinary guy.”

    He was a car salesman in Wyoming, Delaware when – after a high school friend was killed in Afghanistan – began intense social media discussions with those who falsely claimed affiliation with the Islamic State terrorist organization.

    What started out as a few naïve conversations turned into an obsessive flurry of communication that led him to quit his job, contact the FBI, and ultimately end up in jail facing charges and with his sanity in question.

    He went through multiple mental health evaluations before finally being released, based on a third evaluation done by Dr. Kirk Heilbrun, a Drexel psychologist that deemed Lopez mentally competent.

    While Lopez no longer faces charges -- he says the incident and evaluations involved have left him with a tarnished reputation and difficulty finding work.

    Forensic mental health evaluations are quite different from diagnostic mental health evaluations.

    Dr. Kirk Heilbrun says while the process has been refined over the years, there’s still room for improvement.

    “It’s just a question of - for psychologists and psychiatrists - getting good at doing these kinds of evaluations and then for judges and attorney, recognizing that there are some who do it well, and some not so well and trying their best to get the ones that get the information that is best from the ones that do it well,” Heilbrun said

  • 02 Jun 2016 2:44 PM | Anonymous

    Psychologist Breaks Down What Incompetent Ruling Means

    The judge's decision that Jimmy Snuka is not competent to stand trial comes after expert testimony, mental health evaluations, testimony from Snuka himself as well as from his wife. Prosecutors wanted the judge to see things differently. 69 News sat down with Dr. Robert Gordon, an expert in forensic psychology, who says the issue of competency boils down to a simple principle. "Competency is understanding the procedures factually and rationally," Dr. Gordon said. Dr. Gordon also says, without expertise, it is difficult to detect whether the person in question is lying to avoid the charges, or is actually not competent to stand trial. He also says those who fake it, otherwise known as malingerers, are typically detectable to a seasoned professional. "Malingerers overdo it, they ascribe to too many symptoms that the real person wouldn't, or incongruent symptoms that don't go a long with the actual diagnosis," Dr. Gordon said. While it is over for now, there are still more hurdles for Snuka's attorneys to overcome. There's another hearing to evaluate any changes in Snuka's competency six months from now. Dr. Gordon says the outcome of that could depend on the reason Snuka has been deemed incompetent to stand trial. "[If the testing shows a psychosis], with the right medication and treatment, he could be rehabilitated and competent to stand trial," Dr. Gordon said. "If the neuro site testing shows brain damage, you can't restore those lost neurons and then he can't be rehabilitated and competent to stand trial." According to Snuka's attorney, after a year and a half the judge would have to dismiss the charges if there is no change in Snuka's competency.

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