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Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases


Honesty and Striving for Objectivity


When psychiatrists function as experts within the legal process, they should adhere to the principle of honesty and should strive for objectivity [despite being] retained by one party to a civil or criminal matter…


Psychiatrists practising in a forensic role enhance the honesty and objectivity of their work by basing their forensic opinions, forensic reports and forensic testimony on all available data. Tey communicate the honesty of their work, efforts to attain objectivity, and the soundness of their clinical opinion, by distinguishing, to the extent possible, between verified and unverified information as well as among clinical ‘facts’, ‘inferences’, and ‘impressions’.


Psychiatrists should not distort their opinion in the service of the retaining party. Honesty, objectivity and the adequacy of the clinical evaluation may be called into question when an expert opinion is offered without a personal examination…


In custody cases, honesty and objectivity require that all parties be interviewed, if possible, before an opinion is rendered. When this is not possible, or is not done for any reason, this should be clearly indicated in the forensic psychiatrist’s report and testimony. If one parent has not been interviewed, even after deliberate effort, it may be inappropriate to comment on that parent’s fitness as a parent. Any comments on the fitness of a parent who has not been interviewed should be qualified and the data for the opinion clearly indicated.


Contingency fees undermine honesty and efforts to attain objectivity and should not be accepted. Retainer fees, however, do not create the same problems in regard to honesty and efforts to attain objectivity and, therefore, may be accepted.


Psychiatrists who take on a forensic role for patients they are treating may adversely affect the therapeutic relationship with them. Forensic evaluations usually require interviewing corroborative sources, exposing information to public scrutiny, or subjecting evaluees and the treatment itself to potentially damaging cross-examination. Te forensic evaluation and the credibility of the practitioner may also be undermined by conflicts inherent in the differing clinical and forensic roles. Treating psychiatrists should therefore generally avoid acting as an expert witness for their patients or performing evaluations of their patients for legal purposes.


Treating psychiatrists appearing as ‘fact’ witnesses should be sensitive to the unnecessary disclosure of private information or the possible misinterpretation of testimony as ‘expert’ opinion. In situations when the dual role is required or unavoidable (such as Workers’ Compensation, disability evaluations, civil commitment, or guardianship hearings), sensitivity to differences between clinical and legal obligations remains important….


Qualifications


Expertise in the practice of forensic psychiatry should be claimed only in areas of actual knowledge, skills, training, and experience.


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