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A study of amnesia in homicide cases and forensic psychiatric experts’ examination of such claims

International Journal of Law and Psychiatry. Vol 32 s. 281–287 | 2009


About one third of defendants in homicide cases claim amnesia during the time of their alleged act.
Examining the authenticity of claimed amnesia is a special challenge for forensic experts. Because the
experts' conclusions have legal implications, it is useful to study the characteristics of defendants who claim
amnesia regarding a homicidal act and how forensic experts assess these defendants' claims. The forensic
psychiatric reports from 2001 to 2007 on 102 Norwegian defendants charged with homicide were assessed
quantitatively with a structured rating form. Due to multiple comparisons p of .003 was chosen. Twenty-six
defendants claimed partial and 17 claimed total amnesia. No significant differences in the characteristics of
the defendants were found between the partial, total, and no amnesia claiming groups. Claims of partial or
total amnesia did not change the procedures and content of the forensic experts' examination. A memory test
was applied in only one case. Despite the seriousness of the crime and the difficulty of assessing amnesia, the
experts did not apply psychological testing of memory function or appropriate tests of possible malingering.
Guidelines or standardized procedures for evaluation of defendants who claim amnesia should be developed.
This could eventually contribute to more reliable and valid evaluations by forensic experts and increase the
probability of just court outcomes.