Utilizing therapists to obtain death penalty verdicts.

R. Weinstock,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law 22(1): 39-52, 1994.
As a result of recent decisions by the United States and California Supreme Courts, therapists now have been placed in a position in which they can be forced to testify in death penalty cases for the only purposes of achieving a conviction and a death penalty verdict. Zeal for the death penalty seems to have overcome any concern for the ethics of psychiatrists or even for the welfare of society. In California, therapists can now be forced to testify against their own patients in capital cases even if the patient does not tender his mental state as an issue, despite the presence of a psychotherapist-patient privilege in the state for criminal matters. In California, the only option for therapists who wish to treat potentially dangerous patients may be to conduct the therapy under the umbrella of attorney-client privilege. Otherwise they may not be able to avoid serious ethical problems and personal danger if the patient actually does kill someone during or after therapy. They may be unable honestly and ethically to treat such patients without obtaining truly informed consent to therapy under these potentially "undercover policeman" circumstances. Hopefully, professional organizations will take a more activist position, and courts will appreciate the folly of these decisions and reverse them. Otherwise, they may spread to other states, for which California frequently sets precedents.