What is a forensic psychiatrist?
A forensic psychiatrist is a physician who has training and experience related to the interface between the law and psychiatric issues.


What do forensic psychiatrists do?
Forensic psychiatrists provide psychiatric consultation on a wide variety of medicolegal matters.  They gather information by interviewing and evaluating individuals and reviewing relevant records and documents. Often, forensic psychiatrists communicate their medical opinions in reports, and sometimes through expert witness testimony at trial.


How is forensic psychiatry useful to the legal process?
When legal matters involve issues outside the knowledge of the average person, lawyers and judges may consult professionals with specialized knowledge. Such professionals are often called “experts” or “expert witnesses.”  Psychiatric expert witnesses offer opinions that help the trier of fact understand the medical issues that are relevant to the particular legal questions.


Are forensic psychiatrists the same as forensic psychologists?
Forensic psychiatrists are not the same as forensic psychologists. Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have received either an MD or a DO degree. They have also completed a psychiatry residency program. Forensic psychologists have completed a graduate psychology degree, such as a PhD or PsyD.  Forensic psychiatrists and psychologists sometimes consult and/or collaborate with one another, depending on the specific situation.


Do forensic psychiatrists advocate for a particular side in a legal case?
Although psychiatric expert witnesses advocate for their opinions, it is unethical for them to advocate for one side or the other in a legal matter. The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law’s Ethical Guidelines for the Practice of Forensic Psychiatry state, “When psychiatrists function as experts within the legal process, they should adhere to the principle of honesty and should strive for objectivity.” Psychiatric experts sometimes disagree, but they should come to their conclusions in a manner that is as objective and independent as possible.