UC Law Journal


This article reviews some issues in psychiatry, psychology, and the law with the goal of increasing understanding across disciplines. We compare how concepts such as certainty, probability, reliability, and validity are used across disciplines; e.g., psychiatrists and psychologists tend to think in terms of probabilities, whereas the legal system often prefers certainty because the resolution of disputes requires making absolute decisions such as whether a defendant is guilty or not. We describe special ethical issues that are associated with providing forensic mental health evaluations in contrast to providing treatment; e.g., compared to the treatment situation, confidentiality typically is much more limited when psychiatric and psychological evaluations are preformed in a forensic context, and the duty of a forensic evaluator to be objective and fair may require testimony that could interfere with a treatment relationship. We discuss ways in which the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders -IV (DSM-IV) is and is not relevant to legal decision making; e.g., the assignment of a particular DSM-IV diagnosis does not imply a specific level of impairment or disability. Finally, we discuss the implications of recent research on violence risk assessment for legal decision making. Although recent research advances have the potential to improve scientifically-based estimates of violence risk, the issue of how much risk is necessary to justify deprivation of liberty remains a value judgment or social policy decision that rests with the trier of fact.

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