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Jared Loughner: How to tell if shooting suspect is fit to stand trial?

The accused gunman in January's Tucson rampage showed signs of mental instability before the shooting. But his competence to stand trial is a different matter than whether he is mentally ill.

By Lourdes MedranoCorrespondent / May 25, 2011

This artist rendering shows Jared Lee Loughner, the accused shooter in the Jan. 8 rampage in Tucson, Ariz., making his first court appearance at the Sandra Day O'Connor United States Courthouse in Phoenix, Ariz., on Jan. 10. Loughner's mental competency is the subject of a hearing Wednesday in federal court, to determine whether he is fit to stand trial.

Bill Robles/AP

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Tucson, Ariz.

Is Jared Loughner, the accused shooter in the Jan. 8 rampage in Tucson, Ariz., that left six dead and 13 wounded, fit to stand trial?

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His mental competency is the subject of a hearing Wednesday in federal court here, where a judge will consider written reports from two forensic mental-health professionals who evaluated Mr. Loughner at a US prison complex in Missouri. Loughner, now back in Arizona, faces charges stemming from a shooting spree at a political meet-and-greet event for US Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was seriously injured in the attack.

But psychologist Christina Pietz and psychiatrist Matthew Carroll are not expected to testify. The prosecution and defense have agreed to rely on the doctors’ written reports, a move that suggests to some experts that the evaluators probably came to the same conclusion about Loughner’s mental competency.

“Usually if there’s more than one evaluator and they agree, the judge almost without exception will simply rule in accordance with their recommendations,” says Joel Dvoskin, a forensic psychologist at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson.

The fact that the doctors won't testify at the hearing may point to a determination of incompetence, suggests Stephen Golding, a forensic psychologist and professor emeritus at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

The key point is whether Loughner can understand the legal proceedings against him and help his attorney mount a defense, a standard that derives from a 1960 US Supreme Court ruling known as Dusky v. the United States.

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