Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Case #1

You are a forensic psychologist asked by the court to assess the accused's current and prior mental state to determine his competency to stand trial as well as potential criminal responsibility.

You try to interview the suspect (alleged attempted murder of a police officer), but he refuses to talk. You explain the procedure, his rights, the potential for this interview to open the door to a possible insanity defense; you also explain the unconfidential nature of the assessment. He continues to refuse to talk, claiming he isn't feeling up to the interview and anyway is suffering retrograde amnesia so he doesn't remember any details from the incident.

Following the unsuccessful interview, you call the suspect's wife. At first, she hesitantly corroborates her husband's story. She says at the beginning of his recovery from the bullet wound to his head dealt him by the police officer during their altercation, he was very regressed and had difficulty with basic hygienic functions. Later in the interview, she leaked more information.

"Will my husband find out what I tell you?"
"I will have to include it in my report to the court. Are you scared about that?"
"He's killed people before. He made me promise to back up his story."

You must now go and file your report to the Judge. Analyze the actions of the court psychologist up to this point and recommend the next step.


Anonymous said...

Since we are the psychologist are we then supposed to analyze our own actions (which we did not actually perform) and then tell what we would choose to do, or are we supposed to say what should be done, based on some kind of standards, moral, ethical, legal, etc.?

If it's our personal choice, I would report everything as it was told to me. First and foremost, it's my job to do so, if I wasn't willing to stay completely impartial, I would not agree to take on such a task. And secondly, the wife is obviously afraid of her husband and knows that what he is doing is wrong to her. If she did not want him to be stopped, punished, etc. she would not have leaked what she did. The only real problem that I can see, is if she could be charged with perjury for giving the false statement. (Assuming that the interview is considered to be under oath.)

After that, it's up to the lawyers to get her to testify truthfully.

All in all, I would choose not to put myself into that position.

Teddy Douglas said...

It gets complicated. If the suspect had agreed to participate in the investigation, an interview with his wife would have been standard procedure and within the guidelines of the court order. However, since the suspect refused to participate, the evaluation may technically have concluded there.

The psychologist's subsequent decision to call the wife must therefore be defended on some grounds for why it was done at all.

Since that interview may not have been warranted and its protection under the court order is questionable, the confidentiality of the interview may be protected.

Should you determine that no such protection exists in this case and decide to report the wife's leaked information to the court, you will encounter new responsibilities.

Since publicizing this information may be dangerous to the woman (her husband may attempt revenge), it is your duty to inform and protect her from such consequences.