The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in Coble v. State, 330 SW 3d 253 – Tex: Court of Criminal Appeals 2010 dealt with a gruesome capital murder trial. The court dealt with the testimony of the forensic psychiatrist, Coons, on future dangerousness.
The court rejected the testimony finding that it failed under Daubert/Kelly.
The court stated:
From this record, we cannot tell what principles of forensic psychiatry Dr. Coons might have relied upon because he cited no books, articles, journals, or even other forensic psychiatrists who practice in this area. There is no objective source material in this record to substantiate Dr. Coons’s methodology as one that is appropriate in the practice of forensic psychiatry. He asserted that his testimony properly relied upon and utilized the principles involved in the field of psychiatry, but this is simply the ipse dixit of the witness. Dr. Coons agreed that his methodology is idiosyncratic and one that he has developed and used on his own for the past twenty to thirty years. Although there is a significant body of literature concerning the empirical accuracy of clinical predictions versus actuarial and risk assessment predictions, Dr. Coons did not cite or rely upon any of these studies and was unfamiliar with the journal articles given to him by the prosecution.
Dr. Coons stated that he relies upon a specific set of factors: history of violence, attitude toward violence, the crime itself, personality and general behavior, conscience, and where the person will be (i.e., the free community, prison, or death row). These factors sound like common-sense ones that the jury would consider on its own, but are they ones that the forensic psychiatric community accepts as valid? Have these factors been empirically validated as appropriate ones by forensic psychiatrists? And have the predictions based upon those factors been verified as accurate over time? Some of Dr. Coons’s factors have great intuitive appeal to jurors and judges, but are they actually accurate predictors of future behavior? Dr. Coons forthrightly stated that “he does it his way” with his own methodology and has never gone back to see whether his prior predictions of future dangerousness have, in fact, been accurate. Although he had interviewed appellant before the first trial in 1990, Dr. Coons had lost his notes of that interview in a flood and apparently had no independent memory of that interview. He relied entirely upon the documentary materials given to him by the prosecution, including his 1989 report. Dr. Coons, therefore, did not perform any psychiatric assessment of appellant after his eighteen years of nonviolent behavior on death row, nor did he refer to any psychological testing that might have occurred in that time frame.
Based upon the specific problems and omissions cited above, we conclude that the prosecution did not satisfy its burden of showing the scientific reliability of Dr. Coons’s methodology for predicting future dangerousness by clear and convincing evidence during the Daubert/Kelly gatekeeping hearing in this particular case. We conclude that the trial judge therefore abused his discretion in admitting Dr. Coons’s testimony before the jury.
Write a Reply or Comment