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Clinicians in the Courtroom - An Interdisciplinary Attitude Assessment Relating to Commitment, Criminal Responsibility, Disposition and the Assessment of Dangerousness

NCJ Number
M J Badger
Date Published
94 pages
The attitudes of medical and nonmedical clinicians, defense and prosecution attorneys, judges, and jurors toward complex interdisciplinary legal questions involving defendant responsibility are explored.
The study represents an attempt to better understand some of the ramifications of increased clinician involvement in legal processes involving involuntary commitment, criminal responsibility, disposition of not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity offenders, and assessments of offender dangerousness. Primary objectives include clarification of the most appropriate role of the clinician in legal proceedings and descriptions of existing attitudes. Psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, attorneys, circuit court judges, and recent jurors were surveyed by questionnaire regarding their attitudes. Five vignettes were presented for respondent consideration, followed by questions focusing on disposition and reasons therefore. All 112 respondents resided in the Portland, Oregon, area during June and July 1976. Responses to the questions relating to civil commitment and criminal responsibility represent frequency data from discrete categories. A nonparametric chi-square analysis was used in relation to this data to differentiate significant attitudinal differences. The remainder of the attitudinal assessments did not lend themselves to statistical treatment. Analysis indicates that the medical and nonmedical clinician subgroup was the only one which did not demonstrate any significant differences in terms of responses to attitudinal questions involving involuntary commitment and responsibility. Jurors were significantly more likely than judges to choose commit. Prosecution attorneys were more likely than defense attorneys to favor commit over no commit and guilty over not guilty by reason of insanity. It is suggested that clinicians have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the possibility of error and personal bias in view of the importance of medical testimony in many civil and criminal cases. Tables, an appendix containing the questionnaire, and 75 references are included in the study.


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