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Posted on July 31st, 2012, by

Today, the problem of reliability of evidences given by professional psychiatrists and psychologists is challenged by many specialists, including David Faust and Jay Ziskin, whose article “The Expert Witness in Psychology and Psychiatry”¯ explores the reliability of psychiatrists and psychologists as witnesses in the court. In fact, the debate concerning this issue is widely spread and long-lasting, but there is still no definite answer to this question. In such a situation, the authors of the article attempt to explore the essence of the problem and find possible answers, evaluating both pros and contras of involving psychologists and psychiatrists as experts in the trial process. At the same time their article reveals the controversy of involvement of psychiatrists and psychologists as witnesses in the trial, while the authors position still leaves the room for readers to decide, which side to take.

On analyzing the article “The Expert Witness in Psychology and Psychiatry”¯ by Faust and Ziskin, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the authors had several goals to meet with their writing. In this respect, it is possible to single out two major goals which logically derive from the context and essence of the article. First of all, the article aims at the drawing the public attention to the problem of the involvement of psychiatrists and psychologists in trials. Second, the authors apparently aimed at the revelation of the potential drawbacks of using psychiatrists and psychologists in the trial process and, in such a way, they revealed the controversy of the issue discussed in the article. Such a dubious purpose of the article is quite logical, taking into consideration heat debates among specialists concerning the reliability of psychiatrists and psychologists as witnesses.

Obviously, this problem is important, but the authors of the article attempt to specify the problem and they meet their purposes through the large scale coverage of the issue. To put it more precisely, the authors focus on the reliability of psychologists and psychiatrists and pose two questions. The first question is: “Can expert witnesses in psychology and psychiatry answer forensic questions with reasonable accuracy?”¯ (Faust and Ziskin, 2009, p.31). And the second question is: Can experts help the judge and jury reach more accurate conclusions that would otherwise be possible?”¯ (Faust and Ziskin, 2009, p.31). In such a way, the authors ask two major questions which are supposed to test the reliability of psychologists and psychiatrists as expert witnesses and their impact on judges. Obviously, these questions are crucial for the understanding of the essence of the problem. What is more, they definitely attract the public attention to the problem because unreliable witnesses are apparently a threat to the modern criminal justice system, while their impact on the judge and jury is extremely important. It is obvious that, if the impact of witness experts is significant, than it is extremely important, moreover, it is necessary that psychologists and psychiatrists were absolutely reliable. In this regard, the article reveals certain controversy concerning the reliability of psychiatrists and psychologists.

At the same time, the authors lay emphasis on the fact that the problem of expert witnesses and their reliability is of the paramount importance. In this respect, it should be said that the position of psychologists and psychiatrists as expert witnesses is very difficult because, regardless of their professional background, they are still humans and, therefore, they are vulnerable to problems any people face in the course of their witnessing. In actuality, the major problem defined by the authors is the problem of the prevalence of the supportive evidence over counterevidence. In such a way, the authors attempt to show that their expert witness cannot be absolutely objective. Therefore, the major concept developed by the authors is the concept of reliability of expert witness and its impact on court’s ruling.

On exploring the problem of the reliability of expert witnesses, the authors argue that various factors can influence clinical judgments. Therefore, they imply that psychiatrists and psychologists cannot be fully reliable as witnesses. At the same time, the authors explore the contribution of psychiatrists and psychologists in the trail process and, specifically in the better understanding of criminal cases and circumstances related to the crime as well as personality of a criminal. Thus, the authors reveal the fact that, on the one hand, psychiatrists and psychologists can be very important witnesses as experts in their fields and, thus, they provide judges and jury with larger opportunities to understand the personality of criminals, their behavior, and circumstances related to the crime. On the other hand, the authors clearly show that both psychologists and psychiatrists are vulnerable to the impact of external and internal factors which influence their judgments. In such a context, the reliability of expert witnesses is under a question.

On the basis of their research and the debate among professionals researching the problem of the reliability of expert witness, the authors make two assumptions. First, they assume that the expert witness is not totally reliable because of multiple factors that influence their judgments. Second, they argue that expert witnesses are important because their position can help the judge and jury to understand better the case and the personality of an accused person. In such a way, the authors attempt to better understand the subject of their research and test their assumptions in the course of their study.

On studying the problem of the reliability of expert witness, the authors basically supported the idea of the controversy of involving psychiatrists and psychologists in the expert witnessing. To put it more precisely, they concluded that psychologists and psychiatrists as experts, make their judgments on the basis of their professional studies and traditions. In this regard, the authors lay the emphasis on the fact that often psychologists and psychiatrists shape the opinion or judgment that is influenced by their professional habits. For instance, Faust and Ziskin reveal the fact that psychologists and psychiatrists are often inclined to overestimate supportive evidence, but they often underestimate counterevidence. In such a situation, it is hardly possible to speak about the reliability of psychologists and psychiatrists as expert witnesses. At the same time, their contribution to the proper investigation and objective analysis of criminal cases can hardly be underestimated since they can help judges and jury to shape scientifically grounded opinion about the case. At the same time, the authors stress that the impact of psychologists and psychiatrists as expert witnesses. Moreover, their opinion can influence outcomes of a trial, while the risk of errors makes the impact of psychologists and psychiatrists rather negative than positive. Nevertheless, the authors do not impose their opinion, but they rather suggest readers to evaluate the existing problem and solve the dilemma on their own.

Furthermore, the authors make their implications about the further research of the subject of their article. To put it more precisely, they suggest to explore in details various factors that can influence judgments made by psychiatrists and psychologists. In addition, they stand on the ground that judges and jury should be very careful in regard to expert witnesses and make their judgments on the basis of the objective analysis of every specific case.

In such a way, the authors conclude that the problem of reliability of expert witnesses persist and the society should pay more attention to this problem because expert witnessesĀ  can influence the outcomes of trials through the impact of psychologists and psychiatrists on the judge and jury. At the same time, there is no clear way to solve this problem. Therefore, the article should be viewed rather as an important research that explores the problem, but it still fails to suggest effective solutions which can eliminate the risk of error or unreliable judgments being made by psychologists and psychiatrists. In this regard, it should be said that it will be hardly possible to solve this problem because psychologists and psychiatrists are people as millions of others. Therefore, they are vulnerable to external and internal influences and they cannot be always right or wrong. They make their judgments, but they should be used rather as supportive judgments but not the undisputable ones.

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