In The Role of a Forensic Psychiatrist in Legal Proceedings forensic psychiatry expert witness and Harvard Medical School Associate Clinical Professor Harold J. Bursztajn, M.D., writes on the kinds of determinations forensic psychiatrists make in criminal cases.
Although few defendants win a verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI) in court, a larger number receive a stipulated NGRI on the basis of a forensic psychiatric evaluation. In an even wider range of cases, a defendant’s mental state can make a major difference as to whether a jury finds the necessary premeditation, or malice aforethought, to warrant conviction for (say) first-degree murder, as opposed to a lesser charge. The same considerations may be brought to bear in sentencing recommendations as well.
The forensic psychiatric consultation can also be a vital aid to determining whether a client is perjuring himself, or is competent to confess. For example, a schizophrenic man spent nine years in prison in Florida for a double murder to which he had made a false, coerced confession which an expert forensic psychiatric consultation could have revealed to be invalid. Last year my testimony helped win acquittal for a psychotically depressed man who had confessed to embezzling city funds that he had never taken.