Criminal Areas Covered By An Expert Forensic Psychiatrist
Since criminal law is chiefly concerned in receiving input from a Psychiatric Expert Witness for determining the capacities of persons charged or convicted of crimes, cognitive capacities are of a major concern. The abilities to understand Miranda warnings, to confess, enter a plea, and assist in their own defense constitute the minimum criteria for the role of defendant. The rights of defendants have become an expectation of the process of criminal justice; therefore, when defendants waive rights, their mental conditions and behavior may require an Expert Forensic Psychiatrist to determine the quality of their decision.
The establishment of competency to stand trial opinions is an area for determination by expert psychiatric witnesses and includes ensuring the defendant has the capacity to appreciate the charges against him/her, sufficient mental capacity to grasp that he/she is in a court and charged with a criminal offense; that the defendant understands that there is a judge and prosecutor; a jury present to determine guilt or innocence; that a lawyer will be present to defend him/her against the charges; and that the defendant is expected to be able to work with his/her attorney.
In order for defendants to be found responsible for crimes, courts must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that not only were crimes committed, but that the defendant possessed the intent to commit those crimes. Even if both situations can be proven, mentally disordered defendants can have the degree of their responsibility reduced because of the disorder. The work of an Expert Forensic Psychiatrist in determining intent and the existence of mental disorders is indispensable.
Outcomes such as Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity or Guilty But Mentally Ill have specific requirements under the law and require a Psychiatric Expert Witness. Even if the impairment does not meet the legal criteria for insanity, it may reduce the severity of charges or play a role in dispositional decisions after conviction. The testimony of an Expert Forensic Psychiatrist can be a key element in establishing Diminished Capacity or Extreme Emotional Distress.
Unique Mental Disorders
Traditionally, the use of mental health defenses or claims has been for major disorders such as schizophrenia. A recent study noted more than seventy percent of acquittees suffered from psychotic disorders and less than fifteen percent suffered from neurosis, organic brain injuries or mental retardation.
Recently new mental or social disorders have been put forth to excuse or mitigate otherwise criminal behavior. The most common disorder cited recently has been Posttraumatic Stress Disorder since its official recognition by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980. Originally narrow in scope, it has been used in a broader sense than the original requirement that the trauma be outside of normal human experience. Since the criteria for the defense relies heavily on self-reporting, a Psychiatric Expert Witness is instrumental in determining the validity of such a claim.
Additionally, unique mental disorders that have been cited more frequently include Battered Woman Syndrome, Battered Child Syndrome, and Rape Trauma Syndrome.
Arguments from attorneys have since expanded from situations of abuse of a specific individual to arguing that generic or general trauma while growing up should excuse defendants from criminal liability. Black Rage, Rotten Social Background, Urban Survival, Cultural Defenses and Television Intoxication are defenses that cite the situation in which the defendant grows up with distorted human or societal values and that its victims do not have the opportunity to develop non-violent responses to adversity. In these cases the testimony of an Expert Forensic Psychiatrist can substantiate the existence of the claim, or the lack thereof.
Post Conviction Evaluations
Expert Forensic Psychiatrists are often called upon to provide testimony after a defendant has been convicted. Though human nature is such that no one truly has the ability to predict future behavior, the evaluations of a Psychiatric Expert Witness can provide valuable information to assist in sentence determination and factors that may provide insight in the potential for dangerousness or treatment of a convicted person. This information can be used throughout what is often a long period of incarceration. Although courts or other governmental bodies make most release decisions for criminal patients, they may rely on Expert Forensic Psychiatrists to provide them with the necessary information to make reliable decisions.
The history of correctional psychiatry in the United States has been driven by longstanding interest by medical professionals in treating, explaining, and understanding criminal behavior. An Expert Forensic Psychiatrist often serves as a consultant to provide a greater understanding of the ethical and legal issues that arise in the course of care for psychiatric patients in correctional settings. This consultation provides correctional facilities with a greater understanding of psychopathology as it is encountered among the correctional population, and can assist in the treatment and management of inmates with mood disorders, psychotic disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual disorders, and severe personality disorders.
In addition to treatment consultation, an Expert Forensic Psychiatrist can provide psychological autopsies in understanding jail suicides.