The Impact of Psychiatric Illnesses

There has been a considerable amount of research on the manner in which certain functional psychiatric illnesses can affect the reliability of testimony (78,79). Thus, anxiety increases a suspect's suggestibility and depression can lead to feelings of guilt and poor self-esteem that render a suspect vulnerable to providing a false confession (52). Psychiatric illness may also render a person unfit for interview by virtue of its effect on cognitive processes or because of associated thought disorder (80,81). However, careful questioning that avoids the use of leading questions and coercive pressures can often elicit reliable testimony. That a suspect suffers from an illness, such as schizophrenia, does not necessarily mean that he or she is unfit for interview (82); such an opinion would depend on the likely demand characteristics of the interview and the functional assessment by the doctor.

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