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Thread: Reporting crime

  1. #1

    Reporting crime

    I understand that psychologists are compelled to report incidences where a patient talks about intention to hurt a specific person, child abuse, specific plans to kill themselves.

    What about past crimes?

    Say a patient talks about wanting to kill people. The dr asks, "How many people have you killed so far?" The patient answers honestly: two.

    Does the doctor have to report this to the police?

    The patient does not say, "I killed John Doe and Jane Doe on Briarcliff Avenue, November 16 2003." He says something like, "In the past I killed two people because I wanted to. I might do it again. Undecided."

    In this example, both live in the United States.

    Thanks.

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  3. #2

    Reporting crime

    Regarding past "criminal" acts, I would say it depends on two things:

    First, what were those past criminal acts? There is no statute of limitations for homicide as far as I know (and this applies to a few other serious crimes as well, such as child sexual abuse), so in that case the patient's report would definitely have to be reported.

    Second, the risk of future similar acts, i.e., future risk to self or others, must be considered: How likely is it that the behavior may be repeated? For example, with child sexual abuse or sexual assault, time between offences may sometimes be quite long (months or years) but without treatment or some other significant the crime is likely to be repeated. In the hypothetical case you cite, both of these conditions are met -- the crime is still "active" legally and there is a risk of future similar acts -- this, in my opinion, this must be reported.

  4. #3

    Reporting crime

    Interesting. I want to make sure I understand. Using this example:

    A patient talks about wanting to kill people for fun. The targets are adult random strangers (no specific people in mind, no minors). The patient says that the primary thing from holding them back at present is lack of opportunity.

    In the first case, the patient has not killed anyone in the past --based on their disclosure about desires, is that enough for the dr to believe the patient has serious intent and would the dr report? What would the report be? Seems unlikely that the authorities could act on a report of "mr X says he wants to kill people."

    In the second case, the patient says he has killed one person, but gives no details on time or place. Would the dr have enough to go on inorder to make a report?

  5. #4

    Reporting crime

    Quote Originally Posted by WS
    In the first case, the patient has not killed anyone in the past --based on their disclosure about desires, is that enough for the dr to believe the patient has serious intent and would the dr report? What would the report be? Seems unlikely that the authorities could act on a report of "mr X says he wants to kill people."
    To clarify: There is a little bit of scope for judgment on the part of the therapist -- is what the patient is saying credible? But not much the way (at least the way the laws in Canada read): If you as a therapist feel there may be a credible risk, it should and in many cases must be reported -- the child protection laws on mandatory reporting, for example, are quite clear in this regard: you are obligated to report -- the Children's Aid Society will then conduct an investigation to determine what further steps if any may be necessary. Whether the authorities act or not isn't the issue -- what is at issue is the duty to report.

    In the second case, the patient says he has killed one person, but gives no details on time or place. Would the dr have enough to go on in order to make a report?
    Again, your role as the therapist is to act on credible risk by reporting it. There is no need for you to play detective and the 'evidence" of risk is not something that has to stand up in a court of law as sufficient to convict the individual. This is ALL about protectionj of society versus confidentiality and the courts have made it quite clear that one reaches the limits of confidentiality at the point where there may be risk of harm to self or others. We are not detectives -- that's why the police or other authorities are there.

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