Courtroom experiences of a forensic psychologist.
Paradis has spent more than two decades evaluating mentally ill and violent individuals and giving expert testimony in court. Here she details criminal cases in which the prosecution or defense asked her to establish whether defendants were competent to stand trial, or to vet such psychiatric defenses as insanity and extreme emotional disturbance. The cases, all tried in New York City, are fascinating, unsettling and often horrifying. A mentally ill Manhattan man (“The Butcher of Tompkins Square Park”) killed, dismembered and cooked his roommate. A former mental patient shot wildly into a group of sanitation workers, wounding two of them, in the belief that they were alien invaders. A resident in a single-room occupancy building who claimed to be a supreme being working for the CIA stabbed and killed an elderly neighbor. The author also discusses the psycho-legal issues of cases involving juveniles and abused wives. To make her evaluations, Paradis conducts interviews, administers psychological tests, studies hospital records and searches for any other information that will help answer key questions: Is a defendant ill (delusional, paranoid, schizophrenic, etc.) or faking mental illness? What was the mental state at the time of the crime? She notes that many cases pose moral dilemmas: “If a man obeys the voice of God instructing him to attack his mother, for example, is he really guilty and responsible for committing this crime? And should he be imprisoned or sent to a psychiatric hospital?” Paradis offers broad insights into mental illness and the courts. Most defendants who go to trial pleading insanity, she writes, are found guilty and stay in forensic hospitals for years. No matter what the psychiatric testimony, juries are always swayed by personal feelings toward the defendant. A defendant’s state of mind is best determined from his videotaped statement made immediately after his arrest; those who are psychotic when committing an offense may be on medications and much improved when interviewed weeks later.
A welcome inside account.