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Psychiatrist Not Permitted to Testify that Defendant’s Plea was Involuntary


by in Criminal Defense

State v. Graciano Martinez Rosales, ? N.J. ?, 2010 N.J. LEXIS 649 (July 19, 2010) – Conviction affirmed.

“The issue before us is whether it was error to deny defendant Graciano Martinez Rosales’ request to call a psychiatrist as an expert witness to testify that defendant’s confession was not voluntary…. Prior to trial, defendant moved to present expert psychiatric testimony that, based on defendant’s background and the circumstances surrounding the interrogation, he confessed to a crime he did not commit…. To a large extent, Dr. Latimer relied on defendant’s assertions that the police threatened him with death, and defendant’s background and personal history, to conclude that those factors contributed to an involuntary confession. He believed that both defendant’s personal history, and the mechanisms behind a false confession were beyond the knowledge of an average juror and thus required scientific explanation. However, Dr. Latimer did not state that an adjustment disorder or any other predisposition to a mental illness made defendant’s confession involuntary.

Even more germane to the inquiry before us, except for general articles on false confessions, Dr. Latimer did not cite any specific studies on false confessions or specify the scientific mechanisms behind false confessions…. Although Dr. Latimer provided some specifics on what is contained in Ofshe’s work, he conceded that ‘they provide no insight into the mechanism whereby [the] result [is] obtain[ed].’…

Because that testimony was not about a field that is at a ‘state of the art’ to be considered sufficiently reliable, the trial court properly denied Dr. Latimer’s proposed testimony…. Simply stated, we find nothing exceptional about this case to require an expert to opine that defendant gave a false confession. The average juror would understand defendant’s argument that because he was threatened with immediate death by electrocution he gave a false confession to save his life.”






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