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Int J Law Psychiatry. 2009 Sep-Oct;32(5):281-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2009.06.007. Epub 2009 Aug 8.

A study of amnesia in homicide cases and forensic psychiatric experts' examination of such claims.

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Centre for Forensic Psychiatry, Oslo University Hospital, Ullevaal, Department of Psychiatry, Oslo, Norway.


About one third of defendants in homicide cases claim amnesia during the time of their alleged act. Examining the authenticity of claimed amnesia is a special challenge for forensic experts. Because the experts' conclusions have legal implications, it is useful to study the characteristics of defendants who claim amnesia regarding a homicidal act and how forensic experts assess these defendants' claims. The forensic psychiatric reports from 2001 to 2007 on 102 Norwegian defendants charged with homicide were assessed quantitatively with a structured rating form. Due to multiple comparisons p of .003 was chosen. Twenty-six defendants claimed partial and 17 claimed total amnesia. No significant differences in the characteristics of the defendants were found between the partial, total, and no amnesia claiming groups. Claims of partial or total amnesia did not change the procedures and content of the forensic experts' examination. A memory test was applied in only one case. Despite the seriousness of the crime and the difficulty of assessing amnesia, the experts did not apply psychological testing of memory function or appropriate tests of possible malingering. Guidelines or standardized procedures for evaluation of defendants who claim amnesia should be developed. This could eventually contribute to more reliable and valid evaluations by forensic experts and increase the probability of just court outcomes.

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