Would it not make a lot more sense for doctors to be the jury in insanity claims?

Would it not make a considerable deal more sense for doctors to be the jury for cases like this 'un:

Surely said jury should be made up of doctors if its decision is to be accorded any respect?

(No comment on the merits of this verdict is intended by this post)

The Constitution (specifically, the Sixth Amendment) calls for a jury to be “impartial,” not a panel of experts. The judge instructs the jurors what is the legal definition of “insanity” and it’s the jurors’ job to determine whether the defendent meets that specific definition, not the clinical definition of insanity.

In my mind, the whole point of the impartial jury of one’s peers is to avoid bias that might be built into the jury selection.

For example, let’s say that virtually all doctors are white. If a minority is accused of a crime, and can only be tried with a jury of doctors, then there’s virtually no chance that other members of the accused’s minority will be on the jury.

There’s also the fact that medical professionals are not necessarily right. Doctors have believed (and done) some pretty stupid things, even in recent history. This is especially true of mental illness. As experts, they may be better educated, but it will be pretty hard to convince them that they’re wrong, even when they are.

So… while a jury of non-professionals has some disadvantages, it also has some advantages.

Having a case that depends heavily on very technical information (and sometimes lots of it) presents serious problems. Consider the cases of high-level financial skulduggery, as alleged against banks and financial companies, or the Enron case. It’s nigh impossible to prosecute such cases due to the mountains of detailed technical data that even the prosecutors can’t plow through, let alone be comprehensible to a lay jury.

I had a statistics teacher once to mentioned that he is often called as an expert witness to teach statistics to the jury so they can “understand” what-the-hell everybody’s talking about. His point was that it’s a monumental task just to try that, with no assurance at all that the jury will ever have a clue.

It’s a serious problem with our justice system, and needs more thought on how to deal with it. I’m vaguely inclined to prefer technically knowledgeable juries, with due process for choosing them in some unbiased way.

ETA: That also has to include some way, as best someone can figure, to avoid the kind of problems that dracoi mentions just above.

Another point is that the jurors are only supposed to make their decision based on the evidence being presented in the courtroom, rather than their own personal knowledge. The defense is supposed to have a chance to address the assertions that are being used to implicate the accused. If a doctor pulls in some specialized factoid from their own experience, and decides that the accused is guilty on that basis, then the defense didn’t have a chance to address that issue which could lead to a miscarriage of justice.

Having doctors on the jury won’t necessarily help unless they were trained in forensic psychology or forensic psychiatry - an OBGYN may be brilliant in their field but if they aren’t schooled in the law of insanity of the jurisdiction and how it intersects the mental state of the defendant they might as well be a plumber. An expert is a translator, in a sense; I’m a strong, strong believer that an expert brought into court to help inform a jury to understand a technical issue should above all else be able to make that testimony understandable to a jury, otherwise what’s the point? If an attorney just brings in an expert to spout off some impressive jargon that the jury doesn’t understand, there’s no point in having expert testimony at all.

Wouldn’t having an all doctor jury cause anxiety attacks with the attorneys? This may reduce their strategy to having to deal with and argue the facts.

I agree with Senegoid’s main point, which I understand to be the idea that the OP’s question applies not only for medical doctors, but for any case heavily dependent on expert testimony. I’ve often felt that many such cases are decided not by we are right or they are right, but by whether our experts are more or less convincing than their experts. This problem would certainly be solved by having experts on the jury.

As far as how a jury is supposed to work, MikeS’s understanding is very different than mine. I’ve served on a jury several times, and my understanding is that the jury is expected to draw on their general and specialized knowledge and experience. The main thing that juries are to avoid is specific knowledge of this case.

The value in having a physician (or other highly trained individual) on the jury would be not for a specialized subset of knowledge, but for the ability to think critically, something most people (and unfortunately, quite a few doctors) don’t have.

In my very limited jury pool experience, lawyers (especially defense attorneys in criminal cases) do not want physicians on the jury. They want their own experts to carry the day, with opinions filtered through the presenting attorney(s), without some smart-ass physician giving it his/her own interpretation. Besides, physicians are often presumed to be politically right of center and unsympathetic to criminal defendants.

If a forensic psychiatrist actually wound up in the jury pool for a case with an insanity defense, he/she’d be blackballed in record time.

I’ll freely admit that I may have misunderstood what I’ve read about the role of outside knowledge and expertise in jury deliberations.

Juries aren’t asked to make a medical diagnosis, they are asked to make a legal diagnosis (so to speak). Even though the law might use the same term as a doctor might employ (or a popular newspaper might use a medical term to describe a legal concept), a lawyer and a psychologist might understand the term differently. The jury is asked only to decide if the defendant fits the definition of insanity as spelled out in the controlling body of law, not whether the defendant needs a course of medical treatment.

A typical doctor is no more an expert on the law than any other typical juror.

And anyway, a behaviorist (Ph. D.) might strenuously object to entrusting such a decision to a panel of psychiatrists (M. D.s). A disciple of Skinner would consider a disciple of Freud to be a quack and vice versa.

Another factor to consider is that doctors may be more likely to receive an excuse from serving on a jury (especially for long trials), given that they have what’s considered a vital profession in the community.

As far as defense counsel not wanting experts on the jury, my father has never served as a juror. He’s a retired financial analyst, and although he was interviewed for quite a few civil trials, as soon as he says what he used to do for a living, the defense counsel rejected him. His theory is that they think he knows too much about the value of money to give a large award.

The thing is that specialist often tend to be very full of themseles. Psychiatry, for example, took a 100-year wrong turn because Freud was too chickenshit to suggest what was obvious, that his typical patients, women suffering from “hysteria”, were actually the victims of childhood sexual molestation. Instead, he made up (deliberately, according to some) the whole Oedipus/Electra/sexual obsession crap and 100 years of pyschiatrists adored him and swallowed it hook line and sinker.

the short answer is, we have no idea what insanity usually is or exactly what causes it. The goal of a jury of randomly selected persons from all over society is to decide whether actions in a particular case fall in the category of “criminal insanity” whatever the local definition. (Usually “unable to distinguish right from wrong”.)

(Aside - IMHO anyone who shows suficient ability to pre-plan their actions, including steps to avoid detection, and possibly hide their actions afterwards - displays knowledge that society disapproves of these actions, and so cannot complain they had no idea they were doing “wrong”. If Hinckley, for example, had the wherewithal to transport a weapon around the USA without having it confiscated at the airport gate, and keep that gun hidden from the Secret Service until he used it, does he really not understand what he is doing is not approved by society? IMHO… )

Besides, a “jury” of experts is a limited pool. Just as both sides can produce their “experts” and get testimony exactly the way they want - a small jury pool is easily subject to becoming commonly known and the “right” people get selected. “Pick Dr. A; he’s known to be soft on abused mothers…” Add jury shopping to judge-shopping. Even for experts, what is or is not legal insanity is a personal opinion and a crapshoot.

And… a jury of experts does not come cheap. If a good psychiatrist can make, let’s pretend, $120,000 a year (sounds low) they are not going to accept $12/day. Do you really want to add $10,000 times 12 for a one-month trial - for no real benefit.

I was about to bring up that exact point. Not only that, you’ll end up paying them a lot more because you’re paying them their gross and not their take home pay, since they’re using that money to keep their lights on and secretaires paid as well as paying themselves. Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists generally charge about $250 to $350 an hour, so the state is paying about $3000 an hour to expert jurors, not including the experts that are testifying. That comes out to about $120,000 for a week long trial, not including deliberation or travel time. Getting paid that kind of scratch, I would anticipate doctor juires having lengthy, lengthy deliberations. :smiley:

That’s my impression also. The jury is only there to hear the evidence and decide, based on that evidence and only that evidence, if the defendent is guilty or innocent.

It’s up to the State to provide evidence in a manner that the average juror can understand.

Good god, no. Bite your tongue. Doctors have way too much power as it is in cases pertaining to alleged state of mind and so forth. All psychiatric retention events should be decided in cases where medical diagnosis is prohibited from being mentioned at all. Shrinks should have to testify to actual facts to convince a jury, without reliance upon expert medical matters, that the person is not competent.

You really think so? Like, if a criminal defendant committed a crime while out of touch with reality due to psychosis, testifying forensic psychiatrists should be prohibited from saying that the defendant suffers from a psychotic disorder? (Not attacking your position, mind you, just genuinely curious)

If the defendant, in the shrink’s opinion, is out of touch with reality in the legally meaningful sense, let the shrink demonstrate it with the defendant on the stand.

We are responsible for our actions. The exceptions are limited to “this person is not competent” (which is something you should be able to DEMONSTRATE not just testify to) and “this person lacks the ability to discern right from wrong” (which again is generally something you need to convince the jury of, not just testify to as a ‘medical’ matter).

I don’t think it should be legal to mention that someone has been diagnosed “schizophrenic” or “bipolar” or whatever in a court of law. Or mention of such things should be considered suspect and narrowly limited.

Also, “experts” are more full of themselves and less likely to compromise on what they see as “right” according to their opinion in their specialist professional field. So you will see a lot more hung juries, if you stick to the demand that all 12 agree on a verdict.

I believe the whole idea of a jury is to avoid specialists in ivory towers, and ask the average collection of Joe Schmoes if their decision makes sense in the real world.

To a degree, I would agree with that - if an expert simply comes in, shows his degree to the jury and says “this person was legally insane at the time of his crime because he is schizophrenic” and leaves, then he hasn’t really given the jury anything to help them make their decision. The diagnosis needs to be tied to the reasoning and data behind why he meets the legal definition of insanity, what the defendnant’s particular state of mind was at the time, etc. Additionally, diagnostic information is important to tell the jury why the expert believes that the defendant isn’t malingering his symptoms, or just as importantly, for a state’s expert to tell the jury why the defendant is malingering his symptoms, or why he doesn’t meet the legal definition of insanity or incompetency even though he is schizophrenic or what what have you. I’d agree that an expert has to demonstrate and justify his opinion through facts and data and do much more than simply a diagnosis, but I can’t see any good reason not to allow diagnoses whatsoever; it seems like it would just hamstring state, defendant and court’s experts alike in giving their testimony.