Psychiatric Evidence in Criminal Trials: To Junk or Not to Junk?

By Slobogin, Christopher | William and Mary Law Review, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Psychiatric Evidence in Criminal Trials: To Junk or Not to Junk?


Slobogin, Christopher, William and Mary Law Review


INTRODUCTION

If nothing else, the interaction between the criminal courtroom and the mental health profession has produced some memorable nomenclature. "The abuse excuse,"(1) "battered woman syndrome,"(2) "child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome,"(3) "false memory syndrome,"(4) "television intoxication,"(5) "urban survival syndrome,"(6) "XYY chromosome abnormality"(7)--these are just a few of the colorful appellations used to describe claims that mental health professionals have bolstered with their testimony over the years.(8) From reading the popular press, one could easily come to the conclusion that such testimony is spurious "psychobabble" that will eventually swallow up our justice system.(9) Even a more tempered observer is likely to wonder whether this type of opinion evidence is worthy of consideration in courts of law. That is the primary question this Article seeks to address.(10)

This Article begins, in Part I, with a brief review of the past four decades(11) of psychiatric and psychological testimony in criminal trials (henceforth referred to simply as "psychiatric testimony"). Although this review cannot be called comprehensive,(12) it does make clear that, contrary to what the popular literature would have us believe, psychiatric innovation is neither at an all time high nor the prevalent form of opinion testimony by mental health professionals. At the same time, such "nontraditional" expert opinion from clinicians, on those rare occasions when it does occur, has changed over the past few decades in both content and objective.

Part II canvasses historical developments in the law governing the admissibility of psychiatric testimony. With the Supreme Court's recent decision in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals,(13) this law has undergone a metamorphosis, at least on the surface. What is also clear, however, is that evidentiary changes have not, to date, affected the admissibility of most psychiatric testimony. Traditional psychiatric testimony continues to be admitted regardless of its reliability. Further, while novel psychiatric testimony is usually subjected to Daubert-type or other screening tests, the continuing ambiguity of these tests means that nontraditional evidence is still admitted, excluded, or limited in its scope for reasons that are not always immediately apparent. A better method of parsing out truly "junk" testimony is needed.

Part III offers ways of improving the evidentiary analysis. A good framework for such analysis already exists--under the Federal Rules of Evidence, the admissibility of any expert testimony hinges on its materiality, probative value, helpfulness, and understandability.(14) Most courts, however, perhaps not attuned to the subtly different versions of behavioral "science," could benefit from an elaboration of this framework as it applies to psychiatric testimony.

The most important contention in Part III concerns the assessment of probative value. The thesis here is that a distinction should be made between psychiatric evidence presented to prove past mental state and psychiatric evidence proffered to prove acts. Given the difficulty, in theory and in practice, of proving past mental state,(15) the reliability assessment that is part of gauging probative value should be less demanding for psychiatric evidence on this issue. At the same time, psychiatric testimony that focuses on whether an act occurred--an objective and scientifically verifiable fact--should have to meet a more stringent test. In short, assessment of probative value should take into account the extent to which accuracy is possible.

Part III also makes suggestions aimed at improving analysis of the other three components of the admissibility framework: materiality, helpfulness, and countervailing factors. First, courts should pay much closer attention to the substantive scope of the law governing mental state defenses, a move that should curtail some of the more outlandish claims. …

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

Psychiatric Evidence in Criminal Trials: To Junk or Not to Junk?
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.

    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.