The Role of Expert Witnesses in Psychological Blow Automatism Cases

By Wells, Helene; Wilson, Paul | Psychiatry, Psychology and Law, April 2004 | Go to article overview

The Role of Expert Witnesses in Psychological Blow Automatism Cases


Wells, Helene, Wilson, Paul, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law


Automatism is a defence in criminal violence that raises some critical issues about the role of the expert witness in the determination of guilt and innocence. The recent Australian case of R V Leonboyer illustrates some of these issues including psychiathsts and psychologists going beyond their area of expertise, establishing reasonable doubt on the basis of possibilities rather than probabilities and failing to differentiate between automatic behaviour and its causes. Though there may be a necessity to utilise the experience of psychologists and psychiatrists to explain the complex issues arising from the defence of automatism, there are particular problems in using such expert witnesses in this under-researched and complex area.

Automatism is a defence in criminal violence that raises important issues about the role of expert witnesses in evaluating human behaviour. The Victorian Supreme Court case and subsequent appeal of R v Leonboyer illustrates these issues clearly (R v Leonboyer [1999], VSC 422; R v Leonboyer [2001], VSCA 149). In particular, R v Leonboyer demonstrates that "experts" in human behaviour may be enticed to act as advocates rather than as impartial purveyors of the truth. One of the major criticisms of the role of expert witnesses in the criminal justice system, especially when the human behaviour under investigation-in this case automatism--is that it lacks a definitive scientific body of knowledge.

The major purpose of this paper is to analyse the role experts can play in determining the psychological aspects of evidence in relation to automatism. In addition, R v Leonboyer highlights the complexities associated with psychological blow automatism cases and the possibility of feigning this defence. A factual background to R v Leonboyer is provided with reference to verbal and physical activity relating to the crime. In addition, the relationship of the victim and offender is examined pertaining to the proposition that jealousy, physical abuse and threats of violence were contributing factors to the offender's behaviour. An explanation of automatism is offered--specifically psychological blow automatism. Finally, an analysis of the experts' roles in R v Leonboyer is presented.

Factual Background

The accused, Michael Leonboyer, was 24 years old at the time he killed his girlfriend, Sandra Morales. He was born in Chile, but moved to Australia at a young age with his family. Michael's parents divorced in 1980; however, he continued to have intermittent contact with his father. Michael's mother remarried in 1994 but separated from her husband soon after. Michael graduated from university in 1995 with a business degree and in 1996 with a law degree. At the time of Sandra's death, Michael was completing his Master's degree in Taxation and Competition Law (Brief of Evidence: re death of Sandra Morales; R v Leonboyer [2001], VSCA 149).

The victim, Sandra Morales, was 19 years old and completing year 11 studies at the time she was murdered. Born in Columbia, Sandra and her three sisters moved to Australia in 1993 to live with their mother in Melbourne. Sandra met Michael at a Spanish nightclub soon after her arrival in Australia. The two began a serious relationship and lived with Michael's mother, announcing their engagement in January 1997. This relationship soon dissolved and Sandra returned to live with her mother and sisters. Sandra was a popular member of her extended family and enjoyed dancing with her sisters, mother and cousins. Her English improved considerably during her time with Michael because he encouraged and preferred her to speak in English, as opposed to Spanish (Brief of Evidence: re death of Sandra Morales).

There is some contention regarding the nature of Sandra and Michael's relationship at the time Sandra was murdered. Michael stated that Sandra was his fiancee whereas Sandra's family believed the couple were "re-establishing" their relationship after a period of fighting (Statement of Michael Leonboyer, May 6, 1997, p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Role of Expert Witnesses in Psychological Blow Automatism Cases
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.