Monday, August 22, 2016

#22. 'Expert' Witlesses - Psychiatric Perversion of Justice and Due Process



This is Day 22 of our 30-day blog on the Declaration of Principles adopted by the 10th Annual Conference on Human Rights and Psychiatric Oppression held in Toronto, May 14-18, 1982.  (More info here.)  Today we are talking about Principle 22.

Principle 22 reads in full as follows:

We believe that persons charged with crimes should be tried for their alleged criminal acts with due  process of law, and that psychiatric professionals should not be given expert-witness status in criminal proceedings or courts of law. 

Basic Rationale

Psychiatric perversion of the legal system must end. Psychiatry confounds rather than advances the cause of justice.  Mental health professionals are no better at predicting dangerousness to self or others than a toss of a coin. They are no better at judging intentions or motivations than anyone else. Their processes and methods are inherently subjective, power-imbalanced, self-indulgent and self-serving.

In actuality, the opinions of psychiatry carry weight not because of the factual accuracy, but because of the social power of their position.  At most, their function is to let the decision makers with real responsibility off the hook. They function as a socially-approved Nuremberg defense for judges and jurors to pass the buck and rely on a socially designated ‘expert’ authority.  Psychiatry should not be letting the proper socially-designated decision-makers off the hook, nor should it be usurping or undermining their rightful power.

This is a travesty of justice that must be ended. There is no reason that judges, law enforcement and ordinary citizens cannot do as well on their own.  These issues are necessarily difficult.  No human being - however experienced - is flawless at predicting the future.  Some things simply cannot be known in advance by human beings.  This, in fact, is the basic point of the protection against preemptive detention that is written into the bulk of our law.

Indeed, everywhere but psychiatry, people have to actually commit a crime - or engage in substantial preparation to do so - before they can be charged, arrested or detained.  Everywhere else but psychiatry, someone else's say so that you scare them or that they are afraid for you - without more - is not enough.  You have to actually do stuff or seriously threaten it - not just think or talk about it.  

Moreover, the stuff you do - and the way you go about it - has to violate an existing law that is already out there in the codes.  Even then, if the authorities want to keep you, they actually have to write up charges - listing exactly what you did and why it was wrong.  You also get a right to stay silent, to bail, to a timely hearing, to confront your accusers, to call witnesses on your behalf, to have an attorney help you with your defense.  All of this you get in regular court, but not in the farcical psychiatry-infested parallel proceedings that only apply to people who psychiatry has gotten to first and labeled 'mentally ill'. 

Here is another point to consider:  Analytically speaking, the proper party to investigate and evaluate public safety concerns (if any) is law enforcement, not psychiatry.  Law enforcement holds the societally-designated public safety role.  Public safety is the defined responsibility of law enforcement, as well as the specific role for which law enforcement has been employed.  As such, law enforcement is far better positioned - and potentially far more experienced and reliable - than psychiatry for getting at objective truth about safety or danger.  Thus, law enforcement can and should be trained to effectively assess and skillfully respond to public safety concerns, thereby obviating any perceived need for psychiatric opinion or involvement.

Once these roles are clearly distinguished, the irony of psychiatric involvement in the court system becomes clear.  It would be unthinkable to let a police officer get up on the witness stand an render an opinion that basically says, "I did my homework and can tell you from my experience with a zillion criminals that Joe Smith here is really dangerous so you should lock him up as a preventive measure."  That clearly would not pass Constitutional muster and the officer would basically be laughed out of court.  Yet we basically let psychiatrists - who have far less experience with real danger than law enforcement and far more of a personal investment (guild interests, organizational interests, liability concerns, professional pride) in being seen as 'right' about their perception of the threat a person poses -- to render these kinds of irresponsible, prejudicial, self-serving opinions all the time.

No less important, ethically speaking, psychiatry has no business entering the public safety role.  The first duty of psychiatry, medicine and any so-called helping professional is to the person who has been entrusted to their care.  Any attempt to divide the responsibility inherently destroys not only the helping function, but also the possibility of any meaningful information resulting from the so-called therapeutic interaction.   In a word:

  1. The only way to get good information from the person about their real status is by establishing trust.  (Otherwise it is just an interrogation - which law enforcement can do just as well.) 
  2. In the absence of genuine trust, there can be no good information.  
  3. In the absence of good information, there is no expertise to offer.  
  4. In the absence of expertise, there is no basis for psychiatric court involvement.  
On the other hand, if trust actually is established, and the information actually is good, then there is no way for psychiatry to nonconsentually report to a court on the information that was entrusted.  The moment it does so, the professional obligation to the client, along with the trust that was created, is violated.

No less important, the moment trust is violated, the treatment relationship - not only with the psychiatrist in question but with the entire profession they represent - ends in the person's mind.  This means that once the professional obligation of duty to the client has been violated, there is no point in continuing to 'treat' the person. The treatment relationship itself has been so contaminated by the professional violation that no court or other rational decision-maker could reasonably expect anything therapeutic or helpful to occur.  

The clinical relationship - from that point forward - is by definition coercive.  The nature of the power imbalance and the inherent coerciveness are imprinted indelibly in the memory of the person entrusted to clinical care.  There is no way to unring the bell - for either the 'treater' or the 'treated.' 

It's over. 

This is really important to get.   The purpose of holding the person is for 'treatment'.  But the psychiatric testimony - in and of itself - has killed the possibility of legitimate 'treatment'.  Ergo, there is no rational legal basis for continuing to hold the person for 'treatment' - because at that point there is no reasonable expectation that anything resembling 'treatment' will ever again result. The only thing that will result is in the nature of master-servant, wherein  I do what you tell me to do, because I now know of the incredible power you hold over me, including the power you have to hurt me if I don't do it your way.  

You would think someone in the 'helping' professions - or the court system - would have figured this out.  The implications are pretty obvious to anyone sincerely interested in seeing them.  That alone shows how truly witless the so-called psychiatric experts are - as well as how self-serving the little courtroom dog and pony show the profession is operating really is.    

Stay tuned!

There is a lot more to come on this Principle.  We are delighted to announce that Ingrid Johanne Vaalund of Norway will be talking about this principle in relation to the Breivik case.  The Breivik case is an incredibly important case that came up in Norway after Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 persons, many of them children and youths, in two separate events in 2011. Prior to sentencing, Breivik went through two separate forensic evaluations - where so-called experts came to radically different conclusions.  The first evaluation determined that Breivik had a psychotic disorder, thus being legally unaccountable.  The second concluded that he had a personality disorder, thus being legally accountable.  Ms. Vaalund will discuss the implications of the Breivik case in relation to this Principle.   

Questions for Reflection


We are building this work together.  Your lived experience is needed and valued.  It is essential to building our shared knowledge and expertise as a movement.  Please comment on any or all of these questions or in any way that speaks to you personally.

1. Has psychiatry ever been allowed to testify against you in a court of law?   
2.  What would you like people of conscience to know about your experience?
3. What was the impact of that experience on your relationship with the psychiatrist in question? The treating facility?  The mental health profession in general?   
4. In your experience, how helpful, useful or accurate was the psychiatric opinion?
5. How helpful was the entire process in reducing the dangerousness or risk you were alleged to represent?
6.  Do you recommend this process to anyone who is sincere in their intent to address concerns about someone's dangerousness or risk? 
7.  What better alternatives are there?
8. How could we make them real?

August 22, 2016:  Conference on Principle 22 


We will talk about Principle 22, including your responses, on August 22 from 9-11  PM EST.  Details for listening or calling in will be announced shortly.

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