Judicial Notebook

On Jan. 3, 1999, Andrew Goldstein, a New York City man suffering from schizophrenia, shoved a stranger, Kendra Webdale, into the path of a subway train. Goldstein had recently stopped taking prescribed psychotropic mediations. Public outrage over the killing led the New York legislature to enact "Kendra's Law," a statute allowing courts to mandate outpatient treatment for mentally ill individuals who do not meet legal criteria for inpatient civil commitment.

Goldstein was tried for murder and pleaded insanity. In his first trial the jury was unable to reach a verdict. In a second trial, Dr. Spencer Eth testified that Goldstein had been suffering from an "acute exacerbation…of severe psychotic symptoms" when he killed Webdale. Eth further testified that Goldstein's psychosis was so extreme that the defendant "couldn't plan, he couldn't intend, he couldn't know as we understand what know means what he was doing or that it was wrong."

Collaterals allowed

Testifying for the prosecution, Dr. Angela Hegarty told the jury that Goldstein suffered only a "relatively mild [disorder] in the schizophrenic spectrum" and that his psychosis was "substantially in remission" at the time of the offense. Goldstein, she testified, was an antisocial predator who used his mental illness as an excuse for his criminal conduct.

Both experts based their testimony on examinations of the defendant and reviews of his voluminous psychiatric records. Hegarty, however, relied upon interviews with numerous other people who knew Goldstein before the killing. These individuals provided Hegarty with information that either cast doubt on the severity of Goldstein's mental illness or portrayed him as (in her words) "sexually inappropriate with women." Hegarty accurately testified that it is common and well-accepted practice in the field of forensic psychiatry (as it is in the field of forensic psychology) to use interviews with third parties (generally referred to as collaterals). Over the objection of Goldstein's attorney, the trial judge allowed Hegarty to tell the jury the details of these collateral interviews as part of the explanation for her expert opinion.

After deliberating about two hours, the jury rejected Goldstein's insanity claim and convicted him.

Collaterals in question

While Goldstein was serving his sentence (25 years to life) and awaiting appeal, in 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in an unrelated assault case, Crawford v. Washington (541 U.S. 36). In Crawford, the defendant's wife had made a statement to the police undermining his claim that the assault was committed in self-defense. The state's spousal privilege law precluded her from testifying against her husband, but the prosecution was allowed to put a police tape-recording of the contradictory statement before the jury. The defendant was convicted and appealed. Ultimately, the Supreme Court overturned his conviction, holding that his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was violated by introducing evidence from a witness his attorney could not cross-examine at trial.

In 2005, in People v. Goldstein (6 N.Y.3d 119; 843 N.E.2d 727), the New York Court of Appeals, citing Crawford, reversed Goldstein's conviction and ordered a new trial, concluding that Hegarty's testimony violated Goldstein's Sixth Amendment rights because the individuals she interviewed did not testify at trial and thus were not available for cross-examination.

Specifically, the New York court held that "the statements made to Hegarty by her interviewees weretestimonial." As the court elaborated, "Hegarty was an expert retained to testify for the People. The record does not specifically show that the interviewees knew this, but it would be strange if Hegarty did not tell them; we infer that they knew they were responding to questions from an agent of the State engaged in trial preparation. [A]ll of them should reasonably have expected their statements to be used prosecutorially."

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the Goldstein decision, and the defendant is currently awaiting a third trial.

The New York court's decision in Goldstein has significant implications for the practice of forensic psychiatry and psychology. Experts in these fields routinely and often necessarily rely heavily upon collateral interviews in formulating their opinions. If the New York court's interpretation of Crawford is correct-and it appears to be-mental health experts retained by the prosecution in criminal matters may now find their ability to explain their opinions rather constrained in cases in which such opinions are based in large measure on interviews with third parties who do not testify at trial and are thus not subject to confrontation and cross-examination by defense counsel.

Further Reading

Judicial Notebook is a project of APA's Div. 9 (Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues).