For a person to be found guilty of a crime, they need to be proven to have performed the act in question with a “guilty mind;” that is, with knowledge of the wrongfulness of their behavior. Sometimes the question of guilt is not in doubt. In other words, there is clear evidence that an individual performed the act in question and was aware of the wrongfulness of his or her behavior. Nevertheless, there may be substantial evidence of mental illness or cognitive impairment that can be used as mitigating evidence by the defense. A mental health psychiatrist can be brought into legal proceeding at any point if deemed applicable by the prosecution or defense
Either the prosecution or the defense may hire forensic psychiatrists. It is not always clear if mitigating mental health evidence is present. Sometimes the usefulness of a mental health criminal defense strategy only becomes evident after a well-trained mental health expert reviews the case. It is often a useful strategy for defense attorneys to retain the services of a forensic psychiatrist in a consulting role, to include an initial record review. If, based on the preliminary review of data, the forensic psychiatrist believes that there is sufficient evidence to proceed, then a full evaluation can be pursued and the forensic psychiatrist retained as an expert witness and may testify as to the defendant being mentally incompetent or not. Prosecutors may wish to retain a mental health expert to look for holes in the defense expert’s evaluation or to perform an independent evaluation in rebuttal. Irrespective of who the retaining party is, the goal of an evaluation by a well-trained forensic expert is to focus on striving for objectivity and arriving at an opinion that best approximates the facts as uncovered based on the evaluation performed. In many cases, psychiatric forensic experts on both sides of a given case will arrive at a similar opinion.
At Rocky Mountain Forensic Psychiatry, we are available to perform a variety of criminal defense evaluations for individuals charged with crimes. We also have significant experience working behind the scenes in a consultant role to a prosecuting state attorney on several high profile homicide cases in which mental health defenses were raised and have unique experience to offer attorneys with regard to consultation, including strategic considerations, or with regard to cross examination of opinions produced by other professionals. For more information, please contact us.