Levin College of Law
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Law and Psychiatry

Course Number: LAW 6930 Credits: 3

This course explores the relationship of psychiatry and the law and will cover governmental efforts to deprive the “mentally disabled” of liberty or property through the criminal, civil commitment, and guardianship systems. Key goals include learning when and how mental health experts may participate in the legal process, how to utilize these experts, and how effectively to respond to them. The course will begin with an attempt to define “mental disability” as that term is used for legal purposes. It will then examine the extent to which mental health professionals are able to assist the legal system in answering the questions posed by criminal, commitment, and guardianship law. The remainder of the course will consist of looking at the nature of this law. With respect to the criminal law, we will examine the insanity, diminished capacity, automatism, and justification defenses, the guilty but mentally ill verdict, and capital and “special track” (“sexual psychopath”) sentencing. Analysis of civil commitment will consider the legitimacy of police power and parens patriae confinement, and special commitment statutes governing insanity acquittees, drug and alcohol addicts, prisoners, the mentally retarded, and children. Study of guardianship law will require discussion of the “incompetency” construct, the best interests test, and the right to refuse treatment. We will also examine criminal competencies, including competency to stand trial, to confess, and to be executed. Forensic psychiatrists will be invited to participate in class discussions.