Volume 32, Issue 4 (July 1987)

    Litigous Paranoids and the Legal System: The Role of the Forensic Psychiatrist

    (Received 26 July 1986; accepted 1 October 1986)


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    Forensic psychiatrists should be aware of the many ways that paranoid individuals may present within the legal system. Litigious paranoids often utilize the legal system as a vehicle to act out their fantasies and delusional preoccupations. Imaginary grievances, accusations based on delusional ideation, and irrational vindictiveness toward imagined persecutors may find full expression in any number of legal contexts. They can defeat the rational and legitimate objectives of the legal system, enmesh innocent and unsuspecting victims in nightmarish legal entanglements, and subvert the process of justice. The forensic psychiatrist can assist the court by alerting it to the presence of paranoid illness in parties or witnesses and by clarifying what the effects of such psychopathology are and what the most favorable response should be. Three legal contexts wherein paranoid individuals may present within the legal system are discussed: the “hypercompetent” defendant, the paranoid party in a divorce proceeding, and the paranoid complaining witness. Case illustrations are presented for each legal context. Two issues are discussed: the dividing line between paranoid ideation (and its impact on the legal process) and so-called “normal” thinking (and its objective to use the legal process to obtain certain ends); and the degree to which psychiatric opinions in this area should influence the way an individual's case is handled by the legal system. The author concludes that, despite the costs involved, it is preferable that even paranoids have their “day in court.”

    Author Information:

    Goldstein, RL
    Associate professor of clinical psychiatry, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY

    Stock #: JFS12412J

    ISSN: 0022-1198

    DOI: 10.1520/JFS12412J

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    Title Litigous Paranoids and the Legal System: The Role of the Forensic Psychiatrist
    Symposium , 0000-00-00
    Committee E30