Hiring a forensic psychiatry expert witness is a common practice for many attorneys. Forensic psychiatrists assist prosecutors, defense lawyers, civil attorneys, and other parties with cases. You may wonder, though, what such an expert can contribute.
Assessing Fitness to Stand Trial
One of the most common reasons for bringing in a forensic psychiatry expert witness is to assess the fitness of a defendant in a criminal case to stand trial. A prosecutor may elect to hire one to show that someone is mentally and emotionally capable of understanding the crimes they're accused of, and a defense attorney would likely seek to make the opposite argument. This back-and-forth is almost always a part of pre-trial hearings, and it will be a judge that ultimately decides how the case will proceed.
Speaking to criminal intent is a less common reason to hire an expert witness. Most police departments, prosecutors, and agencies have access to their own professionals who assess mens rea. The more likely scenario where an expert would be called to testify or provide a deposition is when the defense needs to refute specific claims about the defendant's state of mind.
Family Court Disputes
Mental fitness is also a common issue in family court proceedings, especially ones where there are questions about possible abuse. In some cases, more narrowly trained experts may need to be hired to address questions about the mental well-being of children.
Particularly when a trust is premised on the mental or emotional fitness of a beneficiary, there may be cause to bring in forensic psychiatrists to assess whether someone ought to be given control of a trust. While relatively rare, this sort of discussion usually involves an adult who is the subject of a special needs trust. An expert can present testimony affirming that the beneficiary either is or isn't capable of managing the trust and their finances without the assistance of the appointed trustee.
Involuntary Commitment Hearings
Committing someone to a psychiatric facility is considered a major decision, and the matter is frequently handled through a court hearing. This sort of proceeding is not unlike the ones involving trusts, but there are usually more dramatic questions about whether a person poses a danger to themselves or others.
The question of whether to allow bail for a defendant accused of a violent offense sometimes requires input from forensic psychiatrists. This is another scenario where the dangers the person poses are assessed, along with additional questions about flight risks.