At Issue; Innocent by Reason of Insanity: The Psychiatrist in Court
- At Issue; Innocent by Reason of Insanity: The Psychiatrist in Court
New York City.An eminent New York psychiatrist charged that psychiatrists as professionals have no business in the courtroom. Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry at the Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse said on National Educational Television networks At Issue, that his view about psychiatric testimony in a courtroom is, in a sense, radical. He said psychiatry, as a quasi-technical disciple, has no place in the courtroom. It obscures and degrades the administration of justice, and I think it degrades the defendant. Dr. Szasz, author of Law, Liberty and Psychiatry, said he doesnt believe there is such a thing as insanity. The whole notion is a mythical one. Its to my mind a modern equivalent of a witch trial, he said. Also appearing on the program were Melvin Belli, San Francisco defense attorney in the Jack Ruby trial; Henry Wade, Dallas District attorney, and prosecutor in the Ruby case; and Dr. John Lanzkron, assistant director of Matawan State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Beacon, NY. The program, which dealt with the insanity plea in a court trial and the relation and effects of psychiatric evidence in court, was broadcast across the country on the N.E.T. network of 82 affiliated non-commercial stations. Dr. Szasz contended that no one is capable of committing a more or less complex anti-social criminal act without knowing what he is doing. I do believe that some people are sometimes unconscious or in rather a disorganized sate, but in proportion as they are unconsciousthey are also incapable of acting in complex ways. In the Ruby case, after all, he (Ruby) did kill Oswald. He didnt kill one of the other policemen. If he was in some kind of seizure so that he didnt know what he was doing, how come he shot this particular man; how come he went to the police station; how come he didnt leave his gun in the car? Mr. Wade agreed with the psychiatrist on a qualifying basis that under our right and wrong test that there are very few crimes that the defendant doesnt know what hes doing. However, there are many crimes that are committed by people who are actually insane, that dont know right from wrong. I recognize that. Mr. Wade and Mr. Belli both agreed that the insanity plea is abused by defense attorneys. Mr. Wade said Its kind of a figment of the imagination of most defense lawyers when they have no other defense. Mr. Belli said, Its abused both waysBut its abused more the other way The jury has been so tuned in on some of the TV shows that theyre inclined to disregard the plea of mental illness. Were not abusing it. The jurors are abusing it. During the opening portion of the program, Dr. Lanzkron illustrated a simulated sanity hearing. At Issue is a 1964 National Educational Television production. Alvin Perlmutter is the executive producer. Howard Felsher is the producer. (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche) This program examines the validity and the relation and effects of psychiatric evidence in criminal court trials. This issue was one of the main focal points of controversy in the Jack Ruby trial. Appearing in the program of separate interviews will be Melvin Belli, defense attorney in the Jack Ruby trial who was later fired after Ruby was convicted; Henry Wade, Dallas District attorney, prosecutor in the Ruby trial; Dr. Thomas Szasz, professor of psychiatry at the State University of New York Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, and author of Law, Liberty and Psychiatry; Dr. John Lanzkron, assistant director of Matawan State Hospital of the Criminally Insane in Beacon, NY. Running Time: 28:55 (Description adapted from documents in the NET Microfiche) 30 minute piece, produced by NET and initially distributed by NET in 1964. At Issue consists of 69 half-hour and hour-long episodes produced in 1963-1966 by NET, which were originally shot on videotape in black and white and color.
- Production company:
- National Educational Television and Radio Center
- Szasz, Thomas
- Lanzkron, John
- Wade, Henry
- Felsher, Howard
- Belli, Melvin
- Perlmutter, Alvin H.
May 18, 1964
- Library of Congress
- Collection (local):
American Archive of Public Broadcasting Collection
- Library of Congress > At Issue
Law Enforcement and Crime
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Episode Number: 33