Psychologist appointed by the court to evaluate the 6-year-old
Q: Doctor, could you tell me how you heard about this case and what your
reaction to it was?
Hyman: Like most people, I heard about this case through the news media.
And my reaction, initially, in a sustained sense is that it's a great
Q: And by that, what do you mean?
Hyman: Whenever we see this type of disability induced in another human
being, it's always tragic. But to have both victim and the perpetrator so
youthful, I think characterizes a tragedy of the greatest proportions.
Q: Can you tell me how many years you've been treating children and what's
the youngest patient you've had previous to this?
Hyman: My treatment of children dates back to my first pre-doctoral
internship here in Berkeley, at the Berkeley Community Health Project. And
then from there I continued in my work at the County of Santa Cruz Health
Services Agency, and thereafter the American Child Abuse Prevention Society,
where I was ultimately clinical director. So I've been working with children
and their families now for better than two decades.
Q: And how many juveniles have you treated during that period and what's
the youngest child that you have seen?
Hyman: During the period that I've worked with children, I imagine I've
both assessed and treated well over a thousand, perhaps more than that, perhaps
thousands. And the youngest--and again a great tragedy--was a 3-month old
baby girl who had been raped. And that was in both a forensic and treatment
situation where I worked with the family of the victim, as well as assessing
Q: And in terms of juvenile offenders, what's the youngest that you've
treated or assessed?
Hyman: In my work with juvenile offenders, this case represents the
youngest defendant whom I've assessed. And that contributes somewhat to my
sense of the great tragedy of this situation.
Q: How do you determine whether a kid is competent to stand trial? What do
you look for?
Hyman: In the state of California, in determining the competence of a
juvenile, the criteria that we use are much like the criteria that we use with
any other defendant. We're asked to investigate the ability of this individual
to understand, to comprehend reasonably ... what the charges against him or her
are, what defenses might be posed, and to reasonably be capable of interacting
and assisting in his or her defense with an attorney. These are the formal
In attempting to operationalize these criteria, obviously, when we look at any
defendant--but particularly in looking at a juvenile--we have to understand the
capacities of this individual. Not whether this person is willing to
participate in his or her own defense, but whether he or she can. And this is
the essence of competency, whether we're talking about a juvenile or an
Q: Do you perform any tests, and how long does it take to perform such
an examination of a child?
Hyman: In examining any defendant, I believe it's extremely important
that the legal criteria for competency be absolutely clear. And it's been my
observation that to really answer the questions that the court poses to us in
determining competency that psychodiagnostic testing is extremely, extremely
There are many people who don't approach it this way. And obviously the
specific questions about whether or not the individual is capable of
comprehending charges against him or her, of cooperating reasonably in his or
her own defense, in understanding the components of the defense and the legal
system sufficiently to participate--these have to be the foci of one's
In the case of a juvenile, we're somewhat eclipsed in tests of psychopathology.
There's one that's particularly valuable, a projective test that we use. But
there are, in cases like this, where the questions of intellective and thinking
dysfunction that enter into the determination--neurocognitive tests, tests of
intellective capacities that are also extremely important.
Q: Aside from the tests that you perform, how long would you spend with a
client or a patient in making such an assessment? How many times would you see
them? And how long would it take?
Hyman: In determining competency, there are rarely individuals who are
at the extreme as to where competency is called into question by the bench.
That is to say, where they're clearly competent, or they're clearly
It's most commonly individuals that are in that mid-range, and it's been my
experience that the questions posed to us have to be answered most
deliberately. In approaching these questions, we really want to look at the
capacities of the individual--how that individual thinks. How that
individual perceives the world, himself, and others. The intellectual
capacities to understand what's going on and any dysfunction of thought or
cognition that might interfere with that understanding, or with the ability to
participate adequately with an attorney and in defense. And these things often
take a great deal of time. So quite commonly, I'll spend an entire day with a
In the case of a juvenile, as well as with adults, I'm also going to be looking
for corroborative data from people who know that individual--both
historically and also at the time of the prosecution, since the question of
competence is a question that's in the present. And so I might be soliciting
data from family members, from attorneys, from correctional officers, from
probation officers, from juvenile detention officers, from teachers, from
Q: Empirically, at what age do the studies indicate that a child clearly
isn't competent to stand trial in a legal sense?
Hyman: Certainly no one under the age of 6, from my experience. And
there may be some extraordinary individuals out there who at the age of 6 or
below are capable of understanding these factors. I would be profoundly
surprised, but they may exist. I've never seen them. I've never seen any
systematic indication that there are such individuals.
As far as 6-year-olds and older children go, it's unlikely--given the
complexity of our legal system, and given the complexity of legal issues--that
children of the age of 6 would be capable of understanding this.
In study of this case and in looking at the issues about it, I've looked at
other 6-year-olds and found that those even with the vast intellectual
capacities and very mature 6-year-olds were incapable of understanding the
competency issues here.
There's been no systematic work done, and certainly in forensic psychology we
would have to investigate at every given age to see broad patterns of capacity.
Because of the absence of significant crime at these ages, historically, we
have not done research at such tender ages.
We know that there certainly are 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds,
14-year-olds, who are competent. In between 6 and 12, 13 and
14, there simply aren't data to allow me to make a broad and sweeping
Q: Why are some kids dangerous and violent, and are there certain
predictors of such behavior?
Hyman: In trying to understand why children are dangerously violent, we
want to look at a very rich tapestry, a very complex model before allowing
ourselves to begin to understand what's really going on.
We look at it, perhaps, simply in terms of concentric circles. And so we see, in
contributing to this behavior, broad social patterns that may include social
values, economic factors. We see community values, employment questions within
a specific community, familial patterns, familial values, parenting practices,
parenting patterns within that family. We would see the influence of
employment and unemployment within that family. We would see educational
factors. We would also want to understand the contribution of personality and
of biological factors.