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P T S D a n d t h e L a w : 
WHAT IT IS, WHAT IT ISN'T, AND ITS 
NEWEST ROLE IN THE COURTROOM
WHAT IS PTSD? 
The term "PTSD" (Post-Traumatic 
Stress Disorder) was introduced 
into psychological discourse in 
the post...
UNDERSTANDING PTSD 
The most common understanding of PTSD is that it causes 
sufferers of a traumatic experience or experi...
PTSD IN 
LEGAL DEFENSE 
In the legal world, PTSD most often comes 
up as part of a defense against criminal 
charges. It i...
EXPERT WITNESSES AND PTSD 
Research has consistently shown that if a psychiatric expert witness is 
able to show that a de...
HOW PTSD 
DOES NOT 
WORK AS 
PART OF A 
LEGAL 
DEFENSE 
In order for a diagnosis of PTSD to have a 
beneficial effect on a...
THE CHANGING DEFINITION OF PTSD 
While the broad definition of PTSD has remained consistent since the 
1970s, the American...
PTSD AS DEFINED IN DSM-5 
The most significant changes to the criteria for diagnosing 
PTSD made in DSM-5 are: 
• The addi...
THE DSM-5 CONTROVERSY 
There has been some criticism of the DSM-5 updates to PTSD; most of it 
suggesting that the new cri...
Forensic Psychiatric Associates 
Medical Corporation (fpamed) is a 
group of psychiatric and 
psychological experts who pr...
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Ptsd and the law

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http://www.fpamed.com | Since its introduction into psychiatric discourse in the post-Vietnam era, PTSD has become a controversial but important part of forensic psychology. While the exact criteria for establishing a diagnosis of PTSD continues to evolve, it is still true that defendants who are able to establish past sympathetic trauma and subsequent affliction with PTSD are more likely to be sympathetic to juries, and thus see more positive outcomes at their trials.

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Ptsd and the law

  1. 1. P T S D a n d t h e L a w : WHAT IT IS, WHAT IT ISN'T, AND ITS NEWEST ROLE IN THE COURTROOM
  2. 2. WHAT IS PTSD? The term "PTSD" (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) was introduced into psychological discourse in the post-Vietnam era. The diagnosis of PTSD was created to describe the variety of damaging psychological effects seen in soldiers due to their long-term and continued exposure to trauma during the war. In the decades since the diagnosis' introduction, it has become a part of the common lexicon.
  3. 3. UNDERSTANDING PTSD The most common understanding of PTSD is that it causes sufferers of a traumatic experience or experiences to constantly re-remember and re-experience the fear of harm or death that they felt during the inciting incident(s). PTSD is most commonly associated with the trauma experienced by soldiers deployed in armed conflict. According to current estimates by the National Center for PTSD: • 11% of veterans of the conflict in Afghanistan, and • 20% of veterans of the Iraq War suffer from PTSD
  4. 4. PTSD IN LEGAL DEFENSE In the legal world, PTSD most often comes up as part of a defense against criminal charges. It is most commonly used as part of one of the following defense strategies: • Insanity • Diminished capacity • A mitigating factor during sentencing That said, PTSD is not only legally relevant in criminal cases. It will sometimes also be brought up as a mitigating factor in civil cases such as mass tort claims, or in family court cases such as child custody disputes.
  5. 5. EXPERT WITNESSES AND PTSD Research has consistently shown that if a psychiatric expert witness is able to show that a defendant has suffered from past trauma and subsequently establish a diagnosis of PTSD, that diagnosis can make a significant difference in the outcome of the trial. This is especially true in the case of veterans suffering from PTSD. Time and time again, studies have shown that juries are more lenient on veterans whom they believe to be suffering from PTSD, and that soldiers convicted of a crime are likely to receive a lighter sentence.
  6. 6. HOW PTSD DOES NOT WORK AS PART OF A LEGAL DEFENSE In order for a diagnosis of PTSD to have a beneficial effect on a legal defense strategy, it is best if the defense team can logically connect the PTSD diagnosis and its effects with the alleged criminal act. Additionally, juries and courtrooms are not sympathetic to claims of PTSD caused by the commission of criminal acts or the inflicting of trauma. An example of PTSD backfiring as part of a defense strategy is the Jodi Arias murder trial, during which the jury rejected the defendant's claims that committing the murder she was charged with had caused her to suffer from PTSD. In order to be an effective part of a defense, the defendant must be shown to suffer from PTSD because of trauma inflicted on them, not as a side effect of trauma that they themselves have inflicted.
  7. 7. THE CHANGING DEFINITION OF PTSD While the broad definition of PTSD has remained consistent since the 1970s, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has made some changes to the exact guidelines on how the disorder is diagnosed. The most recent change came in 2013, when the APA published the latest edition of their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (also know as the DSM-5). The criteria for diagnosing PTSD in this newest edition differ from the previous ones found in DSM-4, and have generated some controversy among academics, psychologists, and prosecutors.
  8. 8. PTSD AS DEFINED IN DSM-5 The most significant changes to the criteria for diagnosing PTSD made in DSM-5 are: • The addition of a fourth major symptom cluster. In the newest update, the "avoidance/numbing" cluster found in DSM-IV has been split in two: "avoidance" and "persistent negative changes in cognitions and mood." • The broadening of a pre-existing cluster, "changes in arousal and reactivity," to include additional symptoms such as angry outbursts, irritability, and self-destructive or reckless behavior. • Lower diagnostic thresholds for children and adolescents. • The addition of a new subtype of PTSD for children ages six and younger.
  9. 9. THE DSM-5 CONTROVERSY There has been some criticism of the DSM-5 updates to PTSD; most of it suggesting that the new criteria is overly broad. Criminal prosecutors in particular have been skeptical of the changes, claiming that it is now easier than ever for expert witness testimony to establish PTSD, which will lead to an increase in the number of defendants who use it as a part of their criminal defense. While the current application of PTSD in criminal defenses may be controversial, the wide spread acceptance of PTSD as a legitimate medical condition means that it will continue to be used as a part of legal defenses, and that it will most likely continue to be regarded as a legitimate extenuating circumstance by juries.
  10. 10. Forensic Psychiatric Associates Medical Corporation (fpamed) is a group of psychiatric and psychological experts who provide support to defense attorneys, prosecutors, and civil plaintiffs nationwide. Fpamed provides reports, consultations, and expert testimony on matters of mental health and the legal system, with the aim of presenting complex psychological and behavioral analysis to the court in an understandable, evidence-based manner. For more information, call (415) 388-8040 or visit www.fpamed.com.

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