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Indiana psychologists question qualifications for insanity evaluations

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The Indiana Psychological Association tried to convince members of the Indiana General Assembly to make a key change to state law governing insanity evaluations Sept. 24, but legislators seemed skeptical of the need for a revision.

Representatives from the association offered their proposal during the Legislature’s Commission on Courts hearing at the Statehouse. The association wants to remove a requirement from the state statute that courts have to appoint at least one psychiatrist to assess criminal defendants who claim insanity.

Currently the law allows judges to appoint two or three professionals to the evaluation team, which can include a psychologist or a physician, but must include a psychiatrist.

Eliminating that requirement, the association maintained, would give judges more flexibility and help alleviate the problems caused by the shortage of psychiatrists available for evaluations. Delays occur in finding a psychiatrist and scheduling an appointment, leaving a defendant to wait in jail.

Questions from the commission indicated members were hesitant to remove psychiatrists from insanity evaluations because of their extensive medical training.  

Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson pointed to the growing role of medications and drugs in behavior and asked if psychologists know enough about pharmacology and illegal substances to evaluate a defendant and inform the court.

Psychologist Tom Barbera replied that not many psychologists have pursued that level of training. Both he and Fort Wayne psychologist Stephen Ross emphasized, however, that psychologists do receive an extensive amount of academic and clinical training before practicing.

Rep. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said he did not think a psychologist would be a “worthy substitute” for a psychiatrist because the former has no training in chemicals or the brain.

Indiana University School of Medicine associate professor of clinical psychiatry and certified forensic psychiatrist George Parker drew sharp contrasts between the training of psychiatrists and psychologists. He said psychiatrists are “uniquely qualified” to evaluate medication issues and physical conditions.

Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago, said he was not aware that courts in Indiana were having trouble finding psychiatrists for insanity evaluations. He questioned if the shortage issue was not being manufactured.

Ross responded that while some counties in the state have plenty of psychiatrists, others do not. He noted his home of Allen County has many psychiatrists but only one does insanity evaluations for the court.

The IPA noted that in 2011 the General Assembly removed the requirement that at least one psychiatrist be appointed for the evaluation of a defendant’s competency to stand trial. Now, the association said, the Legislature needs to take the next step.

Again highlighting medical training, Parker said having psychiatrists involved in insanity determinations was important because of the retrospective nature of the evaluation, which draws upon medical training.

Also, he said, competency evaluations have a safe guard. Defendants who are found not competent to stand trial are not released from custody but rather sent to a mental health hospital for further evaluation and treatment.

Sen. Joe Zakas, R-Granger, asked Parker if removing the requirement for psychiatrists would not mitigate the delay in getting evaluations completed.

Parker said he tried to do evaluations quickly, scheduling no later than four weeks after he is given an assignment. Sometimes he has defendants brought to his office in Indianapolis and, when necessary, he drives to another county to do an assessment.

The commission did not vote on the issue. Its next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 8 when it will take up the issue of contents of judgment dockets.

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  1. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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