Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Some Good News

I received word late last week that the judge in a case on which I've been working made a decision that validated the clinical/legal argument I was making about the defendant (i.e. the judge agreed with me!).

This was a contested competency hearing, and I was of the opinion that the defendant was competent to proceed. The psychologist for opposing counsel, obviously, thought otherwise.

Typically, contested competency hearings last several hours, but this one was fairly complicated and I appeared in court on four separate occasions over a period of 2.5 months. Ultimately, the judge ruled that the defendant was competent to proceed, and the rationale he gave for his ruling was similar to the reasoning I used to form my opinion.

This was a long, stressful case, and it was great to get validation from the court that I was on the right track.

NOTE: The practice of psychologists offering an opinion on the ultimate legal issue (in this case, is the defendant competent?) is controversial, and many forensic psychology experts advise that it is a dangerous practice to do so. However, in Colorado, psychologists and psychiatrists who conduct competency evaluations are required by law to offer an opinion on the competency of defendants.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Expert Witnesses and Initial Impressions

I suppose it is no secret that people judge others based on their physical appearance. As humans, we are hard-wired to do this. What is more surprising though, is that most peoples' judgments regarding a person's personality characteristics based solely on physical appearance are reasonably accurate.

In a new study to be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (December 2009), researchers found that participants could accurately gauge 9 out of 10 major personality characteristics of individuals by looking at photographs of them. Judgments on extraversion, agreeableness, emotional stability, likability, and self-esteem were all fairly accurate.

So, what might this mean for criminal or civil proceedings? As an attorney, you should consider the professionalism, competence and trustworthiness of your expert witnesses. But you might also want to consider some of their other personality characteristics. If your expert is likable, emotionally stable and high in self-esteem, juries could pick up on those features fairly quickly, even before your expert starts speaking. If your expert is self-conscious, nervous or unlikable, juries could figure that out quickly, too.

You might also be able to give your experts some tips on coming across as self-confident, likable and emotionally stable. Tell them to smile, sit up straight, make eye contact with the jury, and appear willing to answer any question asked of them. Tell them to speak loudly with an authoritative air, and not too quickly.

If you are working with a psychologist as an expert witness, tell him/her to leave the Birkenstocks at home and wear a real pair of shoes...

Here is a link to more information regarding this study:

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Why Is Daddy Going To Jail?

This morning, I made the mistake of telling my three year-old daughter that I am going to jail today. It caught me by surprise that she even knew what jail is, let alone that it is VERY BAD for one's dad to go there.

I think I set her straight by explaining that I had not done anything wrong and that I was going to go there for two hours to help someone who had done something wrong.

I am not sure if she actually believes they are going let me out this afternoon, so she should be pleasantly surprised when she sees me at home!

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More