Group dynamics in forensic pretrial decision-making

Steven E. Pitt, Joanna D. Brandt, Christiane Tellefsen, Jeffrey S. Janofsky, Marcia E. Cohen, Eric D. Bettis, Jonas R. Rappeport

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This study examines how forensic evaluators' opinions that pertain to diagnosis, competency to stand trial, and criminal responsibility (Maryland's version of the not guilty by reason of insanity plea) are rendered at a state forensic hospital for defendants pleading not criminally responsible. Pretrial evaluations completed independently by a psychiatrist, a psychologist, and a social worker were presented at a forensic staff conference where psychiatrists and psychologists openly 'voted' on diagnosis, competency to stand trial, and criminal responsibility. These results were then sent to the court. The purpose of this study was to assess the clinicians' level of agreement and the role that conformity played in the decision-making process. A sample of twenty court-ordered pretrial evaluations of defendants examined at the hospital between March and June 1991, with evaluators' opinions generated by a secret ballot, were compared with a matched control group from an earlier time, when opinions were generated by open ballot. The study was designed to compare the opinions of forensic evaluators in issues of diagnosis, competency to stand trial, and criminal responsibility between the two samples. The defendants in the experimental group and the control group were matched on the basis of age, race, sex, and offense. It was hypothesized that with secret ballot voting there would be greater disparity of agreement regarding diagnosis, competency to stand trial, and criminal responsibility opinions compared with the open method of voting. However, the results of this study did not support that hypothesis. There was little disparity on forensic opinions rated either by secret or open voting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-104
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
Volume25
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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