"Committing Psychiatrists – as infallible as Popes, as corruptible as slaveholders
The Supreme Court has put psychiatrists and their patients, voluntary or not, into a very special legal category, where in practice and despite all medical evidence to the contrary, the psychiatrists’ rights are supreme and the patients’ rights are almost zero. In the 1983 Barefoot v. Estelle decision, as well as others, the Supreme Court of the United States handed psychiatrists the dispensation of virtual infallibility. Knowing from research that psychiatric predictions of future dangerousness were wrong two out of three times, it stated, “There is no merit to petitioner's argument that psychiatrists, individually and as a group, are incompetent to predict with an acceptable degree of reliability that a particular criminal will commit other crimes in the future, and so represent a danger to the community.”
Why? Because “To accept such an argument would call into question predictions of future behavior that are constantly made in other contexts.” Resulting in, “psychiatric testimony predicting dangerousness may be countered not only as erroneous in a particular case but also as generally so unreliable that it should be ignored.” The High Court then held that there is no “convincing evidence that such testimony is almost entirely unreliable, and [convincing evidence] that the factfinder and the adversary system will not be competent to uncover, recognize, and take due account of its shortcomings.”
Further, “(b) Psychiatric testimony need not be based on personal examination of the defendant, but may properly be given in response to hypothetical questions. Expert testimony, whether in the form of an opinion based on hypothetical questions or otherwise, is commonly admitted as evidence where it might help the factfinder do its job. Although this case involves the death penalty, there is no constitutional barrier to applying the ordinary rules of evidence governing the use of expert testimony.”
This gave psychiatrists the legal status of Rumpole of the Bailey’s “She Who Must Be Obeyed”. And justified it in terms like saying a dead clock should be used to tell time because the courts are paranoid about keeping appointments, it’s the only clock they have, and it’s right twice a day. Further, the sun doesn’t have to be present in order for the dead clock to claim extreme accuracy in predicting that it is up.
Of course, the entire decision and the dissent are more complicated than that. But the High Court’s extreme deference to psychiatry, and its baseless claim that jurors won’t be overly impressed with “expert testimony”, which they don’t know to be generally unreliable, raised to new legal heights any shaman impressed with his or her own opinion. And those psychiatrists didn’t even have to have a crystal ball, just their professional “spidey-sense”. The High Court offered no opinion as to whether this paranormal insight could be obtained from radioactive spider bites.
I’m being this sarcastic about it because unlike a scientific or engineering discipline, clinical psychiatry does not bother often, if at all, to justify its inflated opinion of itself with experimental proof that its methods work and its “insights” are true. And because this kind of High Court decision engendered the horrific consequences to patients abducted into psychiatric institutions under fraudulent and incompetent mental evaluations, often to scam insurance companies. As the Houston Chronicle reported in a long series of articles in the 1990s.
Even though the High Court held in its 1981 Estelle v. Smith case that a prisoner must be given a Miranda warning that anything he says in a psychiatric evaluation can be used against him in a court of law, it seems not to have granted any right to actually remain silent in such an evaluation. Indeed, in the Court’s 1990 Washington v. Harper case, it held a prisoner had no right to counsel at a hearing to determine forced psychiatric medication because, “[I]t is less than crystal clear why lawyers must be available to identify possible errors in medical judgment.”
The thing is, it ceased to be medical judgment when the High Court made it heresy to question its accuracy and value. Blind faith is the province of religion, the “evidence of things not seen”. In contrast, medicine is demonstrated with double-blind experiments and scientific evaluation.
There’s a very good article in the July 2009 issue of The Gauntlet, The Law Journal of the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, pp 57-71, by Dr. Shawn Roberson, the former director of Forensic Psychology at the Oklahoma Forensic Center, which I understand studies and evaluates criminal psychology. It’s “Interrogations and False Confessions – What Attorneys Should Know From the Social Sciences”, and cites 22 research authorities in legal and psychological issues. It shows how law-abiding, innocent, and even mentally stable, ordinary people are trapped into incriminating themselves or giving false confessions. It happens a lot. Perhaps because honest people will readily confess to minor sins which police, prosecutors, judges and lawyers will inflate and conflate into major wrongdoing.
If this can happen to an ordinary, innocent person, what chance does a harmless person with a mental illness have, when faced with interrogation by a mental inquisitor whose opinion that person may not legally dispute? Especially under the duress of being abducted into a mental institution, without any right to counsel. We have seen this kind of thing before. Just ask any Black historian. Or Dred Scott.