Common Questions

Frequently Asked Questions about the Forensic Psychiatry Field

What is Forensic Psychiatry?

Forensic psychiatry is a sub-specialty of psychiatry that focuses on the interface of law and mental health. It includes psychiatric evaluation and consultation on a wide variety of legal matters and may involve expert consultation and testimony.

Who is a forensic psychiatrist?

A forensic psychiatrist is a medical doctor who has completed accredited residency training in psychiatry, additional forensic fellowship and or acquired forensic expertise. Some forensic psychiatrists who specialize in child custody evaluation have completed an accredited fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry. Those who specialize in correctional psychiatry may acquire expertise by working in and or administering correctional mental health and psychiatry programs in such institutions.

When is a forensic psychiatrist brought in to the legal arena?

A forensic psychiatrist/medical expert may assist individuals, plaintiffs and defendants, attorneys, federal agencies, and the courts to evaluate claims ranging from psychiatric and mental health malpractice to civil claims of tort, disability and other areas.

Commonly, legal issues involving diagnosis, treatment or impact of mental conditions of a claimant (personal injury, fitness for duty, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), defendant (competency to stand trial, Insanity Defense, diminished capacity) or decisions taken by a provider (malpractice) may be brought before the court. As they usually fall outside lay expertise, lawyers and judges regularly seek consultation from a forensic psychiatrist in an effort to provide the best possible information to judges or juries. A prudent attorney or other party may request consultation in many other situations.

A forensic psychiatrist may work for either side (plaintiff/defense, prosecutor/defense) in any legal matter. In the course of their professional career, most forensic psychiatrists would try to be involved in cases for plaintiffs and defendants.

A psychiatrist specializing in child custody evaluations prefers to work as an impartial expert agreed upon by the attorneys involved or appointed by the court.

A forensic psychiatrist’s expertise is sought in what common areas of law?

There are several areas of law where Forensic Psychiatrists provide expert consultations and opinions.

  • Civil law : malpractice; standards of care and treatment; personal injury; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); worker’s compensation; Fitness for Duty; suicide; testamentary capacity; effects and side effects of medications; civil commitment to mental institutions; and guardianship.
  • Criminal Law: competency to stand trial; criminal defense issues such as insanity defense and diminished capacity; competency to be sentenced; restoration of competency; Conditional and unconditional release of Insanity Aquittees from a state mental health system; and Sexually Violent Predator commitment.
  • Family/Domestic Law: custody/visitation modification; physical and sexual abuse; and children and juvenile in need of supervision.

Mental illness of a parent, sexual orientation of a parent, allegations of sexual and or physical abuse may complicate child custody and visitations of children with their parents. Such issues may be resolved by a forensic psychiatric/custody evaluation.

  • Laws, regulations and practice in Correctional institutions: malpractice; civil rights (1983 claims); use of medications and their effects and side effects; suicide; and wrongful deaths.

Are there ethics to which Forensic Psychiatrists adhere?

A forensic psychiatrist is expected to adhere to the AAPL (American Academy of Psychiatry and Law) Code of Ethics, which exclusively focuses on forensic practice. Additionally, psychiatrists are required to follow their state licensing board requirements to maintain their license. Most psychiatrists belong to the American Psychiatric Association and/or the American Medical Association (AMA) which have their own formal code of Ethics.

Forensic Psychiatrists should strive for objectivity in evaluation and opinion making and once the opinions are formed, it is acceptable and appropriate to advocate for their position and opinions.

What is the usual fee charged by a forensic psychiatrist?

A forensic psychiatrist charges for his/her professional time on an hourly basis. The hourly rate varies from 250 to 500 dollars, with some charging higher or lower fees. The rate varies depending on region, experience, reputation and other factors. It is unethical for a forensic psychiatrist to work on a contingency basis. Many experts require that their fee be fully paid before issuing a report or prior to testimony.

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