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Conference Covers Topics About Psychiatry And Law

Regular readers know that every year I tweet and blog from the conference of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law. This group of forensic psychiatrists consists of about 1800 of the country’s practitioners. Topics are quite diverse and sometimes rather unusual. It’s a lot of fun. Here’s just a small smattering of factoids I picked up last week:

  • The “sovereign citizen” defense can prompt a competency eval, but is not a delusion. The sovereign citizen movement is a recognized subculture of people who believe the government has no jurisdiction over them.
  • Of 200 defendants cleared by DNA, one-fourth had confessed to the crime.
  • According to FBI uniform crime reports, between 2001 to 2009 2.2% of police murders took place while responding to calls involving a mentally ill person.
  • The collection and selling of serial killer memorabilia is also a venue for potential fraud.
  • President Peter Ash gave an interesting and useful Presidential address about juvenile violent offenders. Persistent juvenile offenders tend to become more impulsive with age, not less. They commit an average of 30 to 70 previous offenses before they are caught for the index violent offense. They differ from adult violent offenders in that they tend to act in groups rather than alone, they commit impulsive rather than planned violence, and their criminal activities tend to be more diverse than adults. There is a .3 correlation between juvenile psychopathy scores and later adult psychopathy, but this only accounts for ten percent of the variance. Translation: most violent juvenile offenders do not become violent adults. Nobody knows for sure why.
  • There was frequent discussion of the hazards and pitfalls of involvement in social media, including discussion about using it to impeach or undermine witness credibility. So far though, when questioned nobody had actually seen this happen to an expert witness. Concern seems to be out of proportion to reality.


My favorite part of this first conference day was the luncheon speech by Pete Earley. Mr. Earley is a former Washington Post report and New York Times bestselling author who’s son has a serious mental illness. His book Crazy is required reading in my training program. The book is a description of life inside of one state’s broken forensic mental health system. He is passionate and compassionate, and a vigorous and outspoken advocate. The audience was clearly captivated by what he had to say, and at some times it was frankly hard not to stand up and shout ‘amen’! when he made his points. (Take home quotes for me: “Never give up hope! People get better!” and “A single person can change the system.”) I was thrilled to finally meet this very warm man whom I admire. And I’m not just saying this because he wrote a blurb for our book!


I attended a presentation about psychiatrists in the media. The panel presented an interesting categorization of activities: psychiatrist as scientist (presenting and interpreting studies), educator, storyteller, celebrity commentator and curbside therapist. I was surprised and flattered to see the home page of Shrink Rap, and the cover of the book, as an example of “psychiatrist as educator” in the media. I’m glad to see we seem to be accomplishing something helpful.

*This blog post was originally published at Shrink Rap*

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