United States v. Byers

740 F.2d 1104
Brief Filed: 10/81
Court: United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
Year of Decision: 1982

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 608KB)


Whether a prosecution-requested, court-ordered, clinical interview conducted in custodial confinement of a criminal defendant who was offering an insanity defense endangered the privilege against self-incrimination protected by the Fifth Amendment and the right to assistance of counsel protected by the Sixth Amendment

Index Topics

Confidentiality/Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege; Insanity Defense


Appellant was charged with first-degree murder and two related weapons offenses. Defense counsel informed the court that defendant would plead not guilty by reason of insanity and the defendant was moved to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for an insanity evaluation. After the St. Elizabeth's staff concluded that the defendant probably was insane at the time of the offense, the government successfully moved to have the defendant sent for a second evaluation in Missouri. The staff in Missouri concluded that the defendant probably was not insane at the time of the crime. Both expert opinions were given at trial and the jury found defendant guilty of second-degree murder and of both weapons offenses. Defendant appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed the conviction. Defendant then requested a rehearing which was granted for determination of the issues in light of the contemporary U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Estelle v. Smith, 451 U.S. 454 (1981). The D.C. Circuit requested that APA and the American Psychiatric Association submit amicus briefs.

APA's Position

APA's brief argued that: (1) a court-ordered, government-requested, clinical interview implicated the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel and the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination; (2) testimonial communications by defendants on the issue of insanity are incriminatory; (3) defendants do not waive their Fifth Amendment rights when they raise the defense of insanity; and (4) the fair administration of a court-ordered, government-requested, clinical interview requires the development of legally, ethically, and professionally acceptable procedures.


The D.C. Circuit entered judgment against the defendant/appellant. It rejected the appellant's claim that his privilege against compelled self-incrimination was denied by permitting the testimony of the Missouri evaluation. The D.C. Circuit found that, when a defendant raises the defense of insanity, he may constitutionally be subjected to compulsory examination by court-appointed or government psychiatrists without the necessity of recording; and when he introduces into evidence psychiatric testimony to support his insanity defense, testimony of those examining psychiatrists may be received as well. The D.C. Circuit also rejected the Sixth Amendment claim. It held that, although recording psychiatric interviews may be a good idea, it is not required by the Constitution and the defendant has ample opportunity to discredit adverse expert opinion through cross examination.