Volume 35, Issue 4 (July 1990)
Abuse of Psychiatric Legal Defenses Revisited: Mandatory Psychiatric Student Withdrawal
Insanity defenses and competency to stand trial have had a history of abuse in forensic psychiatry. Currently Pavela has proposed a procedure for mandatory withdrawal from universities of students with psychiatric problems. Students can be removed who either meet criteria for being incompetent to stand “trial” or meet criteria for the McNaghten insanity “defense” after breaking even a minor university rule. By being forced to withdraw, they can receive worse than the maximum penalty for the offense.
An alternative procedure is proposed which makes the disciplinary process primary for withdrawal of all students and does not abuse psychiatric “defenses.” Withdrawal of students who violate rules should occur only because the behavior itself warrants it. Psychiatric explanations should be reserved for possible mitigation in a role analogous to that in a criminal trial. Consultation between mental health professionals and university administrators also is recommended to help in understanding problem situations and behavior.