Landmark Cases

Legal standards and historical landmark cases largely shape forensic assessment. A good example where legal standards and historical landmark cases have been applied in forensic assessment is in the People vs. Sharp case of 2014 in California. The People vs. Sharp case of 2014 has been selected for review because it involves forensic assessment, and judgments have been made with reference to the Model Penal Code and historical landmark cases. In this case, forensic assessment was relevant in the sanity phase where Sharp’s fitness for trial was determined. Historical landmark cases have been used for reference in order to help minimize errors in judgement.

The People is the Plaintiff and the Respondent while Calvin Leonard Sharp is the Defendant and the Appellant.  In the present case, Sharp appeals the judgement made after proved guilty of first degree murder, cruelty to an animal, aggravated mayhem, and two counts each of attempted willful, deliberate, premeditated murder. The appellant admitted all these allegations. After Sharp waived his right to a jury on sanity phase of his trial, the trial court found that he was legally sane at the time of crimes. Initially, the appellant had pled not guilty by reason of insanity, and the trial court granted the prosecution’s motion to force the appellant to submit a mental examination by a forensic psychology professional. The appellant then filed a petition for a writ of mandate. The Supreme Court denied the petition with reference to Sharp vs. Superior Court case of 2012. The appellant was sentenced to total term of life without the possibility of parole plus two consecutive terms and ten years, consisting of life without the possibility of parole on the murder count, two consecutive terms of life on the attempted murder counts plus consecutive terms of two years on each of the four attendant enhancement allegations, and a consecutive two year-term of the animal cruelty count. The appellant was also charged numerous fines (Westlaw Database List).

The People vs. Sharp case of 2014 is relevant to the legal standard that forensic professionals must consider.  The legal standard that must be considered by forensic assessment professionals is The Model Penal Code which states that, “a person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law (Neville, 2010, p. 8).” The Model Penal Code majorly pays attention to the inability of a person to appreciate the wrongfulness of the act and to conform his or her conducts to the requirements of the law (Neville, 2010). This standard has directed the forensic assessment professional on the best assessment tools to apply in order to determine the appellant’s level of sanity to identify whether or not he is fit for trial (Heilbrun, 1992).

In the People vs. Sharp case of 2014, the court ordered for submission of a mental examination by a forensic psychology professional after the appellant had initially pled guilty by reason of insanity. Results generated from forensic assessment on the sanity phase of trial are relevant because they directed the trial court to affirm that the appellant was legally sane when the crimes were committed. The assessment that was done according to The Model Penal Code is relevant to understanding the legal issues in the case and assisting the trial court in making judgments (Neville, 2010).




Heilbrun, K. (1992). The Role of Psychological Testing in Forensic Assessment. Law and Human Behavior, 16 (3): 257-269.

Neville, K. (2010). The Insanity Defense: A Comparative Analysis. Michigan: Eastern Michigan University Press

Westlaw Database List. People vs. Sharp Case (2014). Retrieved, May 23 2014, from