Alcohol Intoxication and Blackout

A high per­cent­age of crime is com­mit­ted when both defen­dants and vic­tims are alco­hol intox­i­cated. Forensic clin­i­cians are reg­u­larly asked to eval­u­ate men­tal states at the time of the offense for accused per­pe­tra­tors and vic­tims of alleged crime dur­ing peri­ods of alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion. In crim­i­nal pro­ceed­ings, both defen­dants and vic­tims com­monly claim that alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion absolves them of respon­si­bil­ity for their conduct.

Alcohol-induced black­outs” involve a form of antero­grade amne­sia, where indi­vid­u­als con­tinue to func­tion socially with­out record­ing mem­o­ries, due to the impact of rapidly ris­ing blood alco­hol lev­els on the hip­pocam­pus. The amne­sia may be par­tial or com­plete. Individuals are able to engage in com­plex and inten­tional behav­ior with­out loss of con­scious­ness and with­out remem­ber­ing what they did. Some research indi­cates that mem­o­ries may be recon­structed later through post-event cue­ing, but sub­jects demon­strate prob­lems with source mon­i­tor­ing and may actu­ally pro­duce false memories.

This raises a fas­ci­nat­ing psy­c­hole­gal ques­tion: Does alco­hol intox­i­ca­tion remove mens rea? Legally speak­ing, does a black­out remove intent or con­sent? Should a per­son be held respon­si­ble for their con­duct dur­ing an alcohol-induced blackout?

Observers (lay per­sons, police offi­cers, men­tal health clin­i­cians, researchers, and alco­hol coun­selors) can­not reli­ably iden­tify level of intox­i­ca­tion in oth­ers. Self-report of level of intox­i­ca­tion is very poor as well, includ­ing esti­mates of BAC in self and others,though there is some evi­dence that drinkers can be trained to accu­rately detect level of intoxication.

A bib­li­og­ra­phy of lit­er­a­ture on alcohol-induced black­out, judg­ment of intox­i­ca­tion, and asso­ci­ated psy­c­hole­gal men­tal state issues is attached as a resource for work­ing foren­sic clinicians.

Screenshot 2013-10-12 12.31.13Attachment link

Error and bias in forensic behavioral science

A cri­sis is brew­ing in sci­en­tific psy­chol­ogy and foren­sic sci­ence. This con­cerns the over­all reli­a­bil­ity of all psy­cho­log­i­cal sci­ence (more on this later) and the qual­ity of expert evi­dence and tes­ti­mony in courts of law, regard­less of the expert’s dis­ci­pline (yes, even includ­ing the sup­pos­edly hard stuff, like DNA analy­sis). The con­sen­sus: alarm­ingly poor. This […]

Ipse Dixit, Expert witnesses, & Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology

Ipse Dixit in Latin means, “he him­self said it”; It is fre­quently encoun­tered in expert tes­ti­mony. Ipse dixit is an unsup­ported state­ment that rests solely on the author­ity of the speaker. I think a bet­ter trans­la­tion is “because I said it…[it is true].” It is a con­clu­sory opin­ion with­out sup­port. Gutheil & Bursztjan (2003) articulate […]

Bias, cognitive heuristics, and forensic decision-making

The cumu­la­tive weight of 30 years of research orig­i­nat­ing in Tversky and Kaheman’s sem­i­nal 1974 descrip­tion of the men­tal short­cuts humans use when con­fronting cog­ni­tive ambi­gu­ity com­plex­ity, and Kahneman’s recent mas­ter­piece Thinking Fast, and Slow (2011, cf. Gilovich, Griffin, & Kahneman, 2002) has cre­ated a mature cog­ni­tive sci­ence of foren­sic decision-making. The find­ings are not […]

Forensic Psychology is Forensic Science.

There has been a grow­ing aware­ness, some would say cri­sis, con­cern­ing the mediocre qual­ity of expert foren­sic tes­ti­mony sub­mit­ted to the courts in the United States. This appears to be a func­tion of weak meth­ods, and a low thresh­old for judi­cial gate­keep­ing, despite clear man­dates in Rule 702 and Daubert and prog­eny on the foundations […]

Professional Ethics,“partisan allegiance,” and expert witness liability

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Thriving as a forensic psychologist

A nice arti­cle by William Foote PhD in APA’s Good Practice (Winter 2014) is worth a look for stu­dents who think they might be inter­ested in foren­sic psy­chol­ogy. Contrasting clin­i­cal and foren­sic psy­chol­ogy, he writes, “But the field is not for everyone…Forensic psy­chol­ogy is also much more con­fronta­tional. You’re often in an adver­sar­ial posi­tion, with […]

Competency Restoration in the State of Hawaii: An object lesson

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Assessing Homicidal Mental States at the Time of Offense IV: The 2011 Norway Massacre: Criminal responsibility analysis using the R-CRAS.

The use of foren­sic assess­ment instru­ments is a dis­tin­guish­ing fac­tor in the qual­ity of foren­sic reports (Fuger, Acklin, Nguyen, Ignacio, & Gowensmith, 2013). In insan­ity deter­mi­na­tions, the Rogers Criminal Responsibility Assessment Scales (R-CRAS, PAR, Inc.) are with­out peer as an aide to orga­niz­ing and ana­lyz­ing case data. It is a sys­tem­atic cod­ing mea­sure which permits […]

Assessing Homicidal Mental States at the Time of Offense III: The 2011 Norway Massacre: The 2nd forensic psychiatric examination.

Based on pub­lic­ity and pro­fes­sional com­men­tary (“…intense media cov­er­age, with repeated requests for a new eval­u­a­tion by major news­pa­pers and politi­cians”), the court ordered a sec­ond foren­sic psy­chi­atric exam­i­na­tion of Breivik. It was con­ducted 6 months after the first exam­i­na­tion. The two psy­chi­a­trists “con­ducted a con­sid­er­ably longer eval­u­a­tion, and used addi­tional psy­cho­log­i­cal assess­ment instru­ments.” They […]