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What is a Forensic Psychiatrist? When do I need a forensic psychiatrist?

Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

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Curriculum Vitae

By Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

A Forensic Psychiatrist is a medical doctor who is a psychiatrist. When a psychiatrist performs a psychiatric evaluation within the context of a legal framework (IME), e.g., criminal law, civil law, or administrative law, and the psychiatrist is prepared to defend his opinions before the relevant venue, then the psychiatrist is functioning as a forensic psychiatrist. A forensic psychiatrist is a useful expert witness in any case where emotional distress is claimed, a common feature of many personal injury cases, for example, civil torts or cases where punitive damages are considered. Emotional or neurological damage may drive residual damage and an expert must be involved to assess and explain a forensic finding to a jury. It is expected the forensic psychiatrist is familiar with the governing legal questions and has addressed them during his forensic psychiatric examination.

Since 1994, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) has certified Psychiatrists (through examination) in Forensic Psychiatry. Presently, in order to be eligible to take the Board examinations in Forensic Psychiatry, the psychiatrist must complete a one‑year fellowship in Forensic Psychiatry at an accredited institution. When I completed my residency in psychiatry, there were no forensic psychiatry fellowships; psychiatrists learned by doing, and usually obtained consultation from psychiatrists who were experienced in forensic psychiatry. I chose first to audit selected law classes at the University of California, Berkeley, in a special program arranged for me by Bernard Diamond, M.D., who was then Professor of Law, Professor of Psychiatry, and Chairman of the Department of Criminology at the University of California, Berkeley. Upon completion of my one year at Boalt Hall, Dr. Diamond continued to mentor me for four more years.

I became Board‑Certified by the ABPN in Forensic Psychiatry in 1994, which was the first year the Board exam was given. I already had been Board‑Certified in (general) Psychiatry for many years.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not constitute legal or medical advice. Readers should consult with their own legal counsel or physician for the most current information and to obtain professional legal advice or medical advice before acting on any of the information presented.

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