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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2006

    Default Expert medical witness testimony and immunity from suit

    Question: how far does immunity go for expert witnesses when they are granted immunity?

    Situation: A psychiatrist and a psychologist are hired by the state to perform forensic evaluations on the accused in an attempted murder case. They both report the accused was psychotic and experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations and delusions prior to and at the time of the attack. The accused reported she had seen the victim turn into a werewolf. The accused parents also participate in the evaluations and provide unsubstantiated information about the victim. The two experts then proceed to say the victim who they never interviewed or reviewed her medical/mental health records on possibly shared delusions with the accused. They said the victim practiced witchcraft, asked to be murdered, was suicidal etc. None of their statements made about the victim were true and are not consistent with mental health records since the attempt on the life of the victim. Victim had no prior mental health history and started seeing a psychiatrist after the attack to deal with the trauma and others in a partial hospitalization program she attended for two weeks and who evaluated her all say in their records she was not suicidal at the time of the attack, did not ask to be killed etc. The two experts convinced the DA the victim was partially responsible for the attempted murder and this information was made public in a competency hearing for the accused. Information from the hearing was subsequently printed in the newspaper. Also, prior to the hearing, the DA (and police) made comments about the victim in the newspaper and said they had evidence of a suicide pact- when confronted the DA said in an email the evidence was the accused's statement to the police but it now appears that some of this information came from the two expert witnesses who never even met the victim. The victim is a 21 yr old disabled woman and the accused is a 16 year old juvenile.

    Are these two forensic evaluators immune for publicly speculating about the mental health of the victim even when the victim's own medical records contradict their conclusions? Victim was unable to dispute the results in court since this was for a competency hearing for the accused and the victim had no standing in the proceedings. Is there any way to hold these two professionals accountable for their statements which have no basis other than information provided by the accused and her family?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    Behind a Desk


    You're talking about opinions stated on the witness stand? They are likely immune from any legal liability, but if misconduct occurred are potentially subject to disciplinary action by any professional associations or medical boards to which the are members.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2006

    Default Re: Expert medical witness testimony and immunity from suit

    Since someone pulled this up I thought I would provide a more definitive answer. OP failed to provide the state in which this occurred so I cannot address the state specific immunity, however, most forensic experts retained in civil or criminal actions, will not preform evaluations unless ordered to by the court and granted "quasi judicial immunity". Other factors include the state specific standards for experts, e.g. Frye test, Daubert, other. In this case the fact the the adult disabled woman and the minor child would, depending on the state bring in other factors insofar as consent and laws relating to minors. Depending on the State, there may be some privilege for the vicitm or not. Taking all of these factors into account, determines what the DA can do and what the court can or will consider as evidence but in the end if the experts are granted "immunity" you cannot sue them for their expert opinions or the results of their evaluation nor does it change the outcome or validity of the competency hearing for the accused. Vicitms often lose rights to their confidentiality if the matter is pursued i the courts.

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