(Received 5 March 1983; accepted 9 May 1983)
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The cases of 25 attorney-referred murder defendants were analyzed to determine reasons for referral and demographic and clinical characteristics, including mental status and possible relationships between psychiatric findings and trial outcomes. The results suggest that a finding of major mental disorder may be accepted as a mitigating factor, particularly when a disposition is reached through the plea bargaining process. Meanwhile, formal adjudications of fitness for trial (competency) and criminal responsibility did not appear to be significant determinants in the outcome of these cases, even when major mental disorder was demonstrable. Instead, it appears that the forensic psychiatrist functioned most effectively in these cases as an instrument of compassion rather than as ancillary to the criminal law process. It is suggested that this can be an appropriate role for the forensic psychiatrist.
Professor of psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC
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