LAWGENRL 425 – Psychiatry and the Law

Credit points: 15 points
Offered: Second Semester
Contact hours: Lectures – 3 hours per week
Course Coordinator: Carrie Leonetti
Prerequisites: LAW 201

Course description

This course addresses the formal relationship between psychiatry and the law. It covers topics relating to mental health and the law, including: insanity and related defenses, competency, committal, the legal processes affecting compulsory assessment and treatment, regulation of sex offenders, sentencing mitigation, access to psychiatric experts, addiction, alternate dispositions, and the relevance of neuroscience evidence to criminal adjudication. It focuses on the major psychoses and the psychiatric concepts of psychopathy, as well as substance-abuse issues and developmental disability. It explores the use of mental-health experts in litigation involving mental disability, competency to stand trial, pretrial detention, and the involuntary administration of antipsychotic medication, including the propriety of psychiatric predictions of violent behavior and the significance of risk-assessment instruments.

Content outline

The major units of the class are:

Insanity & Related Defenses to Criminal Liability

Criminal responsibility; legal tests for insanity; diminished capacity to form intent; psychopathy; battered person syndrome; voluntariness and coercion.

Mental Competency

Competency to proceed; restoration; involuntary treatment; disposition; decisional competency.

The Role of the Police

Police interrogations and confessions; arrest and pretrial detention of the mentally ill.


Civil commitment; regulation of sexual offenders.

Diminished Moral Capacity

Neuroscience; disposition of offenders with diminished capacity; culpability of juvenile offenders.


Three (from a choice of six topics) 1500 word reflective essays (60%)

One 2250 word reflective essay (30%)

Class participation (10%)