Law and Mental Health: A Case-Based Approach

By Schwartz, Lita Linzer | Journal of Psychiatry & Law, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Law and Mental Health: A Case-Based Approach


Schwartz, Lita Linzer, Journal of Psychiatry & Law


Law and Mental Health: A Case-Based Approach, by Robert M. Meyer and Christopher M. Weaver (New Guilford Press, 2006). 394 pp., $45.00.

Law and Mental Health is co-authored by two well-recognized clinical psychologists who have been editors of the Bulletin of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology, and who are also co-authors of the Clinical Handbooks, 5th ed. They both have strong ties to the University of Louisville, and have each received regional Grawenmeyer Awards for their individual projects.

The volume has 22 chapters divided into seven sections:

1. Psychological issues and involvement in basic courtroom proceedings

2. Legal precedent in everyday clinical practice

3. Clinical forensic evaluation

4. Civil rights and civil law

5. Specific mental diagnoses in the law

6. Violent criminals and criminal law, and

7. Juveniles in the legal system.

Each of the seven sections of the book includes basic information relevant to the specific area (e.g., civil rights and civil law), and appropriate case examples, together with the continuing influence of decisions made in these cases.

The introduction preceding these sections clarifies the authors' perspective on "mental health" and its varied interactions with the legal system, as well as the roles of mental health professionals. A particular point made is that mental health professionals recognize and admit to the limits of empirical knowledge, whereas legal professionals seek absolute certainty in testimony, creating potential areas of conflict in the courts. The authors examine the law in those areas where the two fields have interplay. They also review the differing legal jurisdictions, standards of proof, and the meaning of case law. This effort should contribute to readers being able to understand the ensuing presentations from a more knowledgeable position.

The book is well-written, at times almost conversational in tone, with abundant research and case law references. Meyer and Weaver present positive and negative aspects of rulings, as well as definitions of terms where necessary. In each of the cases discussed, the biographical background of the principal figures is given (e.g., John Hinckley, John Gacy). This is information not ordinarily available if one is reading case law, and contributes to the understanding of case outcomes.

Rulings of state appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court are cited and explained in some detail. In the chapter on sexual orientation, for example, homosexual relationships are explored through discussion of cases from several states. Vermont's recognition of "civil unions," and permission for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts are offered, as well as cases from other states that do not recognize such relationships. References are made to the "significant other" especially as these relate to parental custody and visitation issues.

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