Psychiatric Testimony and the "Reasonable Person" Standard .
K. J. Weiss,
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
27(4): 580-589, 1999.
The aim of this article is to explore the boundaries of psychiatric testimony in
criminal cases. In a series of vignettes, the author describes applications of psychiatric testimony
in nontraditional areas. These are criminal cases in which the defendant-- who was not mentally
ill-- acted in response to a situation that would tend to trigger violence in many persons:
protection of self or others. In scenarios involving self-defense, duress, and passion/provocation,
the dynamics involve interpersonal situations that give rise to behavior that may be entirely foreign
to the defendant but that could not have been avoided. The law looks at these matters through a
"reasonable person" standard: what the ordinary citizen would have done. In principle, there is
often no need for expert testimony, because judges and jurors are presumed able to assess
reasonableness, justification, or provocation. The trier of fact, however, could use a psychiatric
explanation to assess culpability. The author discusses the cases in terms of application and