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Handbook of Forensic Psychiatric Practice in Capital Cases


What is required therefore is ‘amnesia plus’; that is, plus evidence from the clinical story that the defendant dissociated at the time of the actus, that his actions were ‘uncharacteristic’, and that there is a reasonable explanation of ‘why’, or ‘how he came to’, dissociate. Tis may involve description of his personality type, or of some other form of mental disorder, which made him particularly vulnerable to mental dissociation, plus evidence of a ‘trigger’, which likely acted upon such vulnerability.


Depersonalisation and derealisation symptoms are suggestive of ‘partial dissociation’, which would not be sufficient for a finding of a legal automatism.


Capacity to form specific intent


Te mens rea for an offence is the state of mind necessary for the defendant to be convicted of the offence charged. It is specific to the crime. Te issue of whether the defendant had the required mens rea for the offence is not a question for expert comment, in that it goes to ‘the ultimate issue’ of guilt or innocence.


However, whether the defendant had the capacity to form the required intent can be commented upon by an expert, albeit determination both of this issue, and of whether the defendant did, in fact, form the required intent, is ultimately for the jury still to determine.


Offences are distinguished into those requiring ‘specific intent’ and those requiring only


‘basic intent’. Te distinction is not straightforward and there is little discernable logic underlying the two categories. Hence, any expert instructed should ask to be informed as to what the required intention is for the offence charged and whether the offence is one requiring specific, or only basic intent.


Te commonest context of consideration of ‘capacity to form specific intent’ is that of ‘voluntary intoxication’, in that the only circumstances where such intoxication can absolve a defendant from responsibility is where they were so intoxicated that they were incapable of forming the required intent for the offence (R v Majewski). However, this potential defence is only available where the offence charged is one requiring ‘specific’, and not merely ‘basic’, intent.


Psychiatric evidence can also be relevant to jury consideration of whether the defendant, in fact, formed the relevant mens rea, beyond just whether s/he was capable of forming the intent, in that s/ he may have suffered from a mental disorder which should be seen as affecting the likelihood that, on a particular occasion, s/he formed the relevant intention.


For example, a mental condition which likely resulted in preoccupation and ‘distraction’, such as depressive illness, might be relevant to jury consideration of whether the defendant ‘formed the intention’ (an example might be in regard to ‘theft’, where the defendant is required, in law, to have taken something belonging to another ‘with the intention of permanently depriving them of it’, a specific example being a severely depressed defendant charged with shoplifting). Of course, if the condition made it more likely that they did, in fact, form the relevant intention (for example, committing theft in order to be punished, because of believing that they ‘deserved to be punished’, then that would go not towards a finding of their innocence, but of their guilt).


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