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Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases


Te defence is clearly not a ‘mental condition’ defence, but expert psychiatric or psychological evidence can be relevant to it, if the substance of the defence per se is made out. Tat is, expert evidence can ‘add something’ to the defence if the basis of the defence is established.


And expert evidence can be relevant evidence in regard to both the objective and subjective tests. The subjective test


As regards the subjective test, expert medical evidence of abnormality at the time of the killing, albeit insufficient for ‘diminished responsibility’, may serve to suggest that there was, in fact, loss of mastery over the mind.


Further, evidence in relation to the defendant’s susceptibility to be being provoked, including in the way that he was allegedly provoked, may be relevant to jury consideration of whether, in fact, they did lose control.


Examples include:


• A history of childhood sexual abuse in relation to a perceived sexual assault in adulthood • Learning disability or other cognitive impairment • Paranoid personality traits or paranoid psychosis • Impulsive personality traits • Low self-esteem associated with depression


Where the factor relates specifically to their ‘woundability’ in response to things said or done (not their general violent ‘reactivity’), then it may also be relevant to the objective test (see below).


The objective reasonable person


As regards the objective test, expert evidence in relation to the defendant’s particular susceptibility to being ‘woundable’ by particular things said or done may be relevant to consideration of whether someone with those ‘characteristics’ of the defendant would reasonably have lost mastery over their mind. Excluded, however, are any characteristics which go merely to his general violent ‘reactivity’.


Te following are examples of such ‘woundability’ and linkage to things said or done:


• Chronic spousal assaults, whether leading to PTSD or not, which causes the defendant to perceive that they are worth no more than abuse, such that a ‘final assault’ is reasonably perceived as ‘playing upon’ such poor self esteem


• Low self-esteem associated with depression (although a reduced threshold to losing control and being violent would not come within the terms of characteristics modifying the


‘reasonable person’)


• Impotence caused by an anxiety disorder, where the defendant was taunted about such impotence


• A history of childhood sexual abuse in relation to a perceived sexual assault in adulthood 92


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