By Nicole Brooks, MD
fpamed Forensic Psychiatrist
A forensic neuropsychiatrist is a medical professional who specializes in the interaction of neurology (i.e. brain, spinal cord, and nerve structure and function), psychiatry (mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders), and the law. This type of expert witness may be uniquely valuable in a variety of legal cases to provide insight and testimony on matters related to the brain and behavior.
One instance in which a forensic neuropsychiatrist may be needed is in criminal cases involving allegations of not only mental illness but cognitive impairment, e.g. from a prior history of brain injury. For example, if a defendant is claiming that they were not capable of forming the intent to commit a crime (mens rea) due to a mental disease at the time of the act, a forensic psychiatrist may be called upon to assess the defendant’s mental state and provide expert testimony. If, however, their capacity to form the criminal intent was impaired due to a brain injury or neurocognitive disorder, or both, then the added expertise of a forensic neuropsychiatrist may be uniquely helpful to educate the trier of fact about the defendant’s specific cognitive deficits. In such an instance, neurocognitive testing by a forensic neuropsychologist will provide additional crucial objective data detailing the defendant’s specific cognitive deficits that contribute to his or her functional impairment.
Another instance in which a forensic neuropsychiatrist may be needed is in personal injury cases involving traumatic brain injuries (TBI). In these cases, the expert witness may be called upon to evaluate the extent of the brain injury and provide testimony on the potential long-term effects on the individual’s cognitive abilities and overall functioning. Again, the neurocognitive test data generated by a forensic neuropsychologist administering, scoring, interpreting, and reporting on their neurocognitive testing of the plaintiff is of critical value to the neuropsychiatrist conducting the assessment and providing opinions.
Additionally, forensic neuropsychiatrists may also be called upon in cases involving workplace injuries, particularly those involving traumatic brain injuries. In these cases, the expert witness may be asked to assess the individual’s cognitive abilities and provide testimony on their “fitness for duty,” i.e. the employee’s ability to return to work and perform job-related tasks. Sometimes the employee requires treatment before being cleared to return to work. Sometimes the employee’s deficit requires workplace accommodation. Sometimes the employee’s deficits are so permanent and critical to their work responsibilities that they can never return to a former position.
Overall, a forensic neuropsychiatrist expert witness can provide valuable insight and testimony in a variety of legal cases involving issues related to the brain and behavior. Their expertise can help to shed light on complex medical and psychological concepts and can help to ensure that individuals receive a fair and just legal outcome.