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By Robert I. Simon

Southern Methodist Univ., Dallas, TX. deals insights into the theoretical and sensible features of retrospectively picking out psychological states. Explores the function of the psychiatrist or psychologist as knowledgeable witness in litigation, in rendering a retrospective judgement of an individual's psychological country. DNLM: Forensic Psychiatry.

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Retrospective Assessment of Mental States in Litigation: Predicting the Past

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However, if A kills B, thinking that B is an enemy soldier and that the killing is justified as self-defense, then A has the requisite mens rea for murder and could be convicted under the new law but not under the prior law, because he knowingly and intentionally took another’s life. Under the amended provision, it does not matter whether A understood that the act was wrong. (State v. Herrera 1995, at 361) However, as one review of the Idaho decision upholding the constitutionality of its abolition of the insanity defense noted, the changes in the admissibility of past mental states that abolition portends for forensic practice remain ambiguous: In upholding the constitutionality of section 18–207, the Searcy court granted broad discretion to the legislature in reforming and even abolishing the insanity defense.

Other legal standards specifically call for the fact-finder to address a party’s mental state at some point in the past. In these instances the goal of the assessment is to assist the courts to ascertain what a party was thinking on a particular occasion. The insanity defense makes relevant the defendant’s actual mental state at the time of the offense, the requirements for a valid will or contract make the testator’s actual mental state at the time of the undertaking relevant, and standard language in life and accident insurance policies excluding coverage for self-inflicted harm makes relevant the insured’s actual mental state at the time of his death or injury.

The standards for assessing criminal responsibility represent society’s effort to distinguish those persons whose mental or emotional condition at the time of the offense justifies punishment from those who do not (Rogers and Shuman 2000). The insanity defense reflects the fundamental moral principles of our criminal law. An adjudication of guilt is more than a factual determination that the defendant pulled a trigger, took a bicycle, or sold heroin. It is a moral judgment that the individual is blameworthy.

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