U.S. Supreme Court Upholds States' Rights to Exclude Psychiatric Testimony in Insanity Defense Cases

The United States Supreme Court upheld the right of the state of Arizona to make laws which excluded many forms of psychiatric testimony in criminal cases.  In concluding that the Arizona statute was sufficient to satisfy a criminal defendants' rights to a fair trial, the Supreme Court quoted a legal source in support of its decision, stating, "No matter how the test for insanity is phrased, a psychiatrist or psychologist is no more qualified than any other person to give an opinion about whether a particular defendant's mental condition satisfies the legal test for insanity."

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), a psychiatric watchdog group, had filed an amicus curiae brief ("friend of the court brief") with the Supreme Court, pointing out the lack of science in psychiatric testimony, and the many instances of clear failure of justice brought about by bogus diagnoses from psychiatric witnesses.  Finding that the testimony of psychiatric witnesses is often misleading to jurors, the Supreme Court noted that where "the category of mental disease is itself subject to controversy, the risks are even greater" and "opinions about mental disease may confuse a jury into thinking the opinions show more than they do." PDF Download CCHR amicus brief.

The Court also spoke of the "real risk" that a psychiatric "expert's judgment in giving [mental] capacity evidence will come with an apparent authority that psychologists and psychiatrists do not claim to have."  The American Psychiatric Association has previously told courts that psychiatrists cannot predict dangerous behavior, for example.  Its members have recently admitted that they do not know the cause of or cure for any so-called mental disorder.  Click here for video.

Legal Counsel for CCHR, Kendrick Moxon, said, "This is one of the most important judicial decisions this decade.  Anyone who has faced psychiatric witnesses in court knows they will say anything for money.  For years they have sought to baffle jurors who assume that these supposed expert witnesses know what they are talking about.  They don't.  This decision will authorize other states to pass similar laws, bringing sanity to the criminal justice system, and bar the courtroom door to bogus psychiatric testimony."

"Gone With The Wind Syndrome" and Other Million Dollar Excuses

For years, many have criticized the use of hired psychiatrists and psychologists testifying in criminal and civil cases, who claimed that murders and other violent criminal acts should be excused because of the perpetrator's "psychiatric disorders." Purchased psychiatric testimony—at a cost of millions of dollars a year—has resulted in bizarre claims by psychiatrists such as the defense of a rapist, claiming he had "Gone with the Wind Syndrome" to justify an alleged belief that sex should be performed only with resistance from the woman; "Moral Insanity," a defense used by a psychologist to justify the rape of two female patients; "Meek-Mate Syndrome," invoked by a California man who killed his wife because she ridiculed him in public and forced him to sleep on the floor and "Situational Stress Syndrome," the idea that trivial things, like acne pimple outbreaks, cause criminal acts.

Fed up with bogus psychiatric testimony in its courtrooms, Arizona passed a law prohibiting this sort of testimony, and permitting an insanity defense only if at the time of the commission of the crime, the person did not know the criminal act was wrong.  Arizona specifically excluded justifications for crimes such as "acute voluntary intoxication" "character defects, psychosexual disorders or impulse control disorders." It also prohibited excuses often used by psychiatric witnesses which do not constitute legal insanity, including, but not limited to, "momentary, temporary conditions arising from the pressure of the circumstances, moral decadence, depravity or passion growing out of anger, jealousy, revenge or hatred or other motives … manifested only by criminal conduct." The Court determined that Arizona had "sensible reasons" for the law it passed, limiting psychiatric testimony on the insanity defense.

CCHR, established by the Church of Scientology in 1969, has long pointed out that psychiatric diagnoses are based not on science but opinion.  Unlike medical diseases, there are no physical tests to prove the existence of a "mental disorder"—it's all in the eye of the beholder.  Even the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders admits that its use for forensic purposes is a "significant risk" because the "diagnostic information will be misused and misunderstood." Boston University lecturer, Dr. Margaret Hagen, author of Whores of the Court, The Fraud of Psychiatric Testimony and the Rape of American Justice, says psychiatric and psychological evidence in courts is so unreliable that you may as well "just flip pennies or draw cards."

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