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USE AND ABUSE OF THE PSYCHIATRIC WITNESS

NCJ Number
52313
Journal
ON PATROL IN MANITOBA Volume: 5, 3 Dated: (FALL 1978) Pages: 4-7
Author(s)
A I MALCOLM
Date Published
1978
Annotation
THE USE OF THE PSYCHIATRIC WITNESS IN COURT ONLY WITH REFERENCE TO THE SENTENCING OF AN OFFENDER ALREADY FOUND GUILTY OF SOME CRIMINAL ACT OF OMISSION IS DISCUSSED.
Abstract
THE TASK OF THE EXPERT WITNESS IS DIFFICULT, PARTICULARLY IN MURDER CASES AND IN CASES WHERE THE DEFENSE ARGUES THAT HIS OR HER CLIENT IS NOT GUILTY BY REASON OF INSANITY. ACCORDING TO THE M'NAGHTEN RULES, APPLIED IN CANADA, IT HAS TO BE CLEARLY PROVEN THAT THE ACCUSED WAS SUFFERING FROM A DEFECT IN REASON WITH REGARD TO CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE NATURE AND QUALITY OF THE ACT COMMITTED. A DECISION IN THE U.S. COURT OF APPEALS RESULTED IN A NEW TEST OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY BY FACILITATING THE FURTHER ADVANCE OF THE SCIENTIST OR EXPERT WITNESS INTO THE FIELD OF CRIMINAL LAW. THE JUDGE STATED THAT COURTS HAVE ASSUMED AN IMPOSSIBLE ROLE IN ATTEMPTING TO DEFINE INSANITY IN TERMS OF A SYMPTOM SUCH AS AN IRRESISTABLE IMPULSE OR MORAL KNOWLEDGE. ACCORDING TO THE NEW TEST, AN ACCUSED PERSON IS NOT CRIMINALLY RESPONSIBLE IF THE UNLAWFUL ACT WAS THE PRODUCT OF A MENTAL DISEASE OR MENTAL DEFECT. THIS TEST HAS BROADENED THE FIELD OF CRIMINAL INQUIRY AND IT HAS GIVEN THE EXPERT PSYCHIATRIC WITNESS CONSIDERABLY MORE AUTHORITY. THE EXPERT PSYCHIATRIC WITNESS INVARIABLY TENDS TO SPEAK TO THE QUESTION OF THE PRESENCE OF MENS REA AND NOT TO THE ACT. SUCH WITNESSES ARE DISINCLINED TO FAVOR PUNITIVE ACTIONS AND TEND TO REGARD THEMSELVES AS HUMANITARIAN. CERTAIN NEUROLOGICAL AND PSYCHIATRIC CONDITIONS DO RENDER A PERSON INCAPABLE OF KNOWING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RIGHT AND WRONG. THESE CONDITIONS ARE RARE, HOWEVER, AND CAN ORDINARILY BE DIAGNOSED BY ANY COMPETENT TEAM OF PSYCHIATRISTS AND NEUROLOGISTS. PSYCHIATRISTS ARE FREQUENTLY CALLED ON TO MAKE DECISIONS ABOUT THREE DIFFERENT MATTERS: COMPETENCY OF AN ACCUSED PERSON TO STAND TRIAL, PROVISION OF ADVICE TO THE COURT CONCERNING WHETHER AN INSANE PERSON IS ACCOUNTABLE TO THE LAW, AND DANGEROUSNESS. THE OBJECTIVITY OF EXPERT PSYCHIATRIC WITNESSES IS ADDRESSED. (DEP)