It’s Crazy not to Have a Forensic Expert in An Insanity Case

It’s Crazy not to Have a Forensic Expert in An Insanity Case

It’s always easy to Monday-Morning quarterback, especially when not privy to all the background in any given case, but now that a guilty verdict in State of New Hampshire vs. Christopher Gribble, No. 10-S-0230-0235, has been returned one cannot help but wonder what the defendant gained from taking the witness stand during trial and subjecting himself to a skillful cross examination that revealed not only reasoned and calculated thinking and responses, but also a much reported about threat to possibly kill again. Generally, unless you are sure your client is going to exhibit genuinely bizarre behaviors you believe to be symptomatic/suggestive of insanity when testifying, it is always best to establish proof of insanity through third party witnesses and anecdotal evidence instead of from the defendant himself, especially in a state like New Hampshire where the definition of insanity is solely for the jury to decide. Moreover, while I understand how difficult it is for the defense to meet its burden in an insanity case from first-hand experience as co-lead counsel in the double murder trial of State of New Hampshire vs. Sheila Labarre, No. 06-S-2506, I also question the advisability—unless I missed something or misunderstand the defendant’s case—of relying on past/historic psychiatric evaluations without benefit of the perspective of, and testimony from, an expert forensic psychiatrist retained by the defendant himself to address the psychopathology behind the actual crime(s) charged in the case on trial and exact conduct in question. While past evaluations may help fill in some blanks and can provide a useful blueprint for the defendant’s own expert, and also serve as a hedge against the inevitable claim of malingering, they can never substitute for an expert evaluation of not only the offense conduct itself, but the defendant’s actual state of mind at the time the underlying crime was committed. Also, when the State is entitled to, and will, present its own expert psychiatrist, who will be testifying from the context of his own recent and hands-on evaluation of the defendant, and who will almost certainly conclude as he always does—and that’s why they hire him—that the defendant is sane, it is hard to understand why an updated forensic evaluation by an expert of the defendant’s own choosing isn’t de rigueur for any insanity defense. While perhaps a tad crass, the analogy of coming to a gun fight armed with a wooden club may well be apt , but again, these are only opinions of an outside observer (with experience in defending these cases) looking in….

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