It has become apparent that the two disciplines of law and psychiatry have a common "interface" in the field of criminal justice. Commentators generally agree that the administration of criminal justice is greatly aided by psychiatrists and psychiatric data. That is not to say, however, that the meeting of the disciplines has been without incident or misunderstanding. Problems have arisen because of divergent attitudes and goals of the professions. Some commentators say that the concerns of the two disciplines are not the same; others claim that much of the problem lies in the over-estimation of the certainty and reliability of psychiatric information; while still others believe that the use of the psychiatrist to assess criminal responsibility involves the psychiatrist in "legal, philosophical and moral considerations, clearly outside his scope."

While many of the problems raised by commentators are present at all stages of the criminal proceeding, at least some writers feel that the psychiatrist can make his most important contribution at the dispositional (i.e., sentencing) stage of the action, after the guilt of the defendant has been determined. It is felt by these commentators that the psychiatrist is better able to function with respect to predictions of dangerousness at the dispositional stage of a proceeding. It would seem that at least the psychiatrist would be less involved in the kinds of value judgments implicit in a determination of criminal responsibility.

But even at the dispositional stage of the proceedings, the use of psychiatric information presents many problems. It is the purpose of this paper to explore the problems encountered by the use of psychiatric information at the dispositional stage of a criminal trial and to demonstrate that a procedure adequate to protect the constitutional rights of the defendant when the ordinary-type presentence report (containing only factual background information, past crimes, opinions of friends, relatives, and employers as to attitudes and character of defendant, etc.) is used by the court is not necessarily adequate when psychiatric information is included in the report. In this context it is assumed that the psychiatric information is obtained by a court appointed psychiatrist. Further, although there will be a brief discussion of mechanics of gathering pertinent information about the defendant, this article will generally be divorced of any discussion of the legal problems encountered in the gathering of such information. Instead the attention shall be directed to a consideration of the defendant's right to due process and the equitable balancing of the rights of the defendant and society when psychiatric information is used to determine the disposition of a convicted offender.

Document Type


Publication Date



Notes/Citation Information

Kentucky Law Journal, Vol. 60, No. 2 (1971-1972), pp. 285-321



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.