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Psychiatry in the Everyday Practice of Law: A Lawyer’s Manual for Case Preparation and Trial, 4th ed.
Am J Psychiatry 2004;161:1731-1731. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.161.9.1731
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Detroit, Mich.

By Martin Blinder, M.D., Eagan, Minn., Thomson West, 2003, 1,251 pp., $195.00.

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In the preface to this book, Martin Blinder says that it "is designed to assist the attorney in representing his or her client more effectively" (p. xi). Published by a leading publisher of law books, Psychiatry in the Everyday Practice of Law originated with lectures given in the clinical program at the University of California Hastings College of Law. In an introduction reprinted from an earlier edition of the book, retired Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark reminds legal professionals that "psychiatry is beyond a doubt wedded to the effective administration of justice" (p. xiii).

It goes without saying that the publishing history of a book is indicative of its appeal; this is not the second but the fourth edition. It is a pragmatic book rather than an academic book. Its premise is that an understanding of psychiatry would help attorneys to be better advocates across the board—from preparing a mitigation defense to selecting jurors or examining witnesses. Although aimed at the legal profession, the book would also be of interest to psychiatrists engaged as expert witnesses.

The early chapters set out several psychological and neurological concepts. The book begins with the basics of psychiatry, that is, brain function, diagnosis, causation, and treatment. It then moves on to more specific examples of the interplay of psychiatry and the law such as mental competency, criminal responsibility, eyewitness reliability, and psychiatric malpractice. The final chapters of the book focus on how an attorney may best use the lessons of psychiatry in the courtroom (e.g., picking and persuading jurors and using psychology in negotiations) and on the specifics of examining psychiatric experts.

Each chapter is followed by a bibliography, but citations to law cases are made in the text, and their frequency varies by subject matter. The primary case law for each topic is set out in a "rulings and verdicts" section at the end of each subcategory, but the subcategories are not identified in the table of contents. The table of contents and the index leave much to be desired in locating a topic, and there is no table of cases or index of names.

Seemingly more often than citing case law on which a lawyer might rely in court, Blinder refers to case reports and transcripts from his own work as a forensic psychiatrist. He has more than 40 years of clinical practice. The book is replete with sample reports, and each edition contains additional reports. Ostensibly, these reports, written for the court or attorney, are designed as illustrations to help in understanding a particular diagnosis or pathology, but in actuality they do little to add to our understanding and are distractions from the body of the text. The reports would seem to be of more interest to psychiatrists than lawyers.

The most famous of the cases presented in the book involved Dan White, the disgruntled former San Francisco supervisor who was prosecuted in 1978 for the murder of San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk. Blinder served as an expert witness for White. In more than 13 pages, Blinder sets out the facts of the case, including a brief comment at the end on the "Twinkie defense." Blinder offered evidence of the psychological effects of ingesting lots of sugary junk food to support a then-applicable standard diminished claim that reduced murder to manslaughter. White was convicted of manslaughter. Because of the notoriety of the case, the inclusion of this case report is more interesting than most of the others, but it adds little to an analysis of criminal behavior, the chapter in which it is included. In his acknowledgments at the beginning of the book, Blinder says that writing does not come easily to him. Perhaps for that reason he simply includes case reports to try to illustrate his arguments and advice, but the reports do little to "assist the attorney in representing his or her client more effectively."

Despite these criticisms, the book has much to offer attorneys unfamiliar with psychiatry who may be looking for either background on a specific psychiatric disorder or ways to incorporate the basics of psychiatry into their trial work. There are useful appendixes on psychological testing and a glossary of psychiatric terms. The sections devoted to meta-communication, attorney persuasiveness, and picking juries are enlightening and might well be used as supplemental materials in trial advocacy classes for law students. For example, Blinder cites a study showing that attorneys who follow the common practice of thanking jurors for their service to the community are often seen as demeaning, patronizing, or presumptuous. Other similarly small but useful insights abound in the latter chapters of the book. In the end, it is for that type of basic information that the book is best used and may be the reason that the book is in a fourth edition.




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