Neuropsychological Assessments

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi  Photo Source: All Psychology Schools

By Dr. Monique Marie Chouraeshkenazi

Photo Source: All Psychology Schools

For this examination of neuropsychological assessments, I chose the following legal cases: 

  • Dan White: The Myth of the Twinkie Defense 

  • Woody Allen and Mia Farrow: A Swing of King Solomon’s Sword (DellaContrada, 2006).

Dan White vs. City of San Francisco

            Dan White was a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who killed his supervisor, Harvey Milk and the Mayor of San Francisco, George Moscone in 1978. Reviewing White’s background, he was the second oldest of nine children and grew up with both parents. He possessed violent behavior and behavioral issues during his upbringing. Reports stated he was expelled from high school for being violent. However, he was a bright student and graduated from high school as valedictorian. He was an Army veteran, who honorably served and had a knack for security and emergency management becoming a security guard, police officer, and firefighter after his stint in the military. 

            In 1977, he was elected as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in which he had much support from the law enforcement and firefighting communities. Initially, White and his supervisor (Milk) worked well together, but it was not until the Catholic Church proposed a facility for juvenile offenders in his district that tension rose between the two. Milk supported the facility and opposing ideologies of White. He [White] was a traditional, religious man who was outspoken against the LGBT community and those who committed crimes (Milk was gay). They would continue to clash of dissenting opinions until White resigned from his position due to his belief of internal corruption and lack of progression within San Francisco’s government. Four days later, White redacted his resignation and requested reappointment from George Moscone, which he declined. White killed Moscone and Milk as a punishment of denying his reinstatement. 

            White’s defense for the murders was due to the severe form of depression and a high amount of sugar resulting from eating Twinkies, which became known as the Twinkie Defense (Cornell University, n.d.). White completed psychological assessments by forensic psychiatrist, Martin Blinder and it was determined he suffered from depression and heavy consumption of sugar and drinks. White’s conviction was predicated on the “diminish capacity,” which when the defendant is convicted of a lesser offense (Cornell University, n.d.). The defense means that even though a person acknowledged he or she broke the law (and is legally sane) that a lesser punishment should be received because r psychological capabilities were extremely impaired. White was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to seven years in prison. He served five of the seven years and was released. Nearly two years later after his release, he committed suicide. 

Woody Allen vs. New York State Supreme Court 

            Born Allan Stewart Konigsberg, Woody Allen is an actor, comedian, director, and musician, who is most known for movies such as Annie Hall, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Stardust Memories. He was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York and grew up in a trouble household. Allen did not get along with his parents. He played baseball and was known for doing magic tricks growing up. He taught himself film and writing after quitting college twice. 

            In 1992, Allen’s adoptive daughter, (child he shared with Mia Farrow), accused him of sexually assaulting her. He denied the allegations, but suspicions furthered once it was found that Allen was having an affair with Mia’s other adoptive daughter (child she adopted with her husband from a previous marriage) nearly a year after the allegations. Soon-Yi Previn was 22 years old when they began the affair and he reportedly married her when she was 27 and he was 56 or 57. There was also debate on her daughter’s real age. She was a homeless child with no information on her background or family when she was adopted. She had a bone test and found that she was five or six years old at the time of adoption. Allen claimed that Farrow created the story of abuse due to finding out about the affair. He was not arrested nor convicted due to insufficient evidence to support the claims. 

            Though there was not any evidence to support that Allen sexually abused any of his adoptive and biological children, there was suspicion of inappropriate behavior of Dylan Farrow. Psychologists testified that Allen’s behavior was not sexually festered, but inappropriate because he only focused on Dylan, and sometimes the behavior was extreme. Allen’s reasoning was he gave the child extra attention due to the birth of their newborn at the time. Allen attended therapy, but it did not help, as there were many allegations against him in child abuse. After many interviews with Dylan, experts found that she was not sexually abused because she had problems with maintaining her story. However, the judge denied Allen custody of his children and believed his behavior toward Dylan was unacceptable and that she needed to be protected. 

            Woody Allen did not seem to be blackballed from the entertainment industry and has continued to make powerful films, which makes it an interesting perspective since the #metoo movement is not forgiving. Because of the fact, Allen had an affair and married his former long-time girlfriend’s daughter, it is not only seen has disgusted but psychologically twisted (especially when the allegations are included). Experts believe there was a cognitive dissonance between his personal and professional life (Rosen, 2015). 

            The purpose of both cases chosen were to determine how the psychological capabilities impacted both individuals to commit (and allegedly commit) crimes. According this week’s lesson, neuropsychological assessments are conducted for various reasons. Particularly in this case, psychological assessment would be beneficial to determine “whether there has been damage or whether there is some dysfunction that could be affecting a person’s functioning in different aspect of their lives” (APUS, 2018, para. 11). Because both cases, the individuals were males who committed acts, which impacted their cognitive abilities, neuropsychological assessment would be intuitive to determining factors on why made such decisions in two extremely different cases. Harvey (2012) stated that there some conditions that are defined by the presence of cognitive impairment. Certain issues can be derived from major depression and/or mental illnesses. 

I wanted to discuss legal cases that were not just based on the legal system, but the reason why they were entered into the system in the first place. I conducted research from a different angle, to gain historical background and in-depth insight on what provoked behaviors and actions between both cases. Once I read the entirety of the background and underlying factors, I was not amused at all. For the “Twinkie Defense,” I have never heard of anyone committing a crime due to an over indulgence of sweets and believed the the defendant's defense was pathetic. I totally agree with you and believe there were some red flags when he was growing up. The behavioral and anger problems alone were enough to conduct an assessment during his adolescent years to determine if something was wrong. I believed that his sentence did not match the crime. It sort of seemed premeditated to me, but regardless of if it was or not, five years was not sufficient for the crimes he committed.

The cases I found were quite unusual and I thought they would be fitting for this particular examination into neuropsychological assessments, especially with the eccentricity behind why psychological assessments were warranted. For the Dan White case, the defense used "crime of passion," "depression," or "mental instability" for the reason of the murders would be more believable that excess sugar intake. I also wonder if that defense has even been used again within the court system. I definitely believe it was a lazy defense, but at the same time, I cannot believe the defendant only completed five years for committing two murders. 

        I remember the Woody Allen case because it was highly publicized in the media. People could not believe that a man would have an affair and go on to marry his ex's adoptive daughter. I know he distanced himself by saying he did not jointly adopt her (because she was adopted by man from a previous relationship), but the fact that he seemed to be a role model and adopted the girl's other siblings, it just seems to be inappropriate and disgusting relationship. Believably, they are still married and have children of their own. Courts should appoint medical and psychological experts to ensure assessments, observations, and experimental professionals who are credible. I do not believe the defense should hire their own experts just like the prosecuting team. I believe it should be neutral and the court appoints its own to eliminate bias. 

This reverts back to conducting psychological testing prior to court cases to determine not only if legal cases are credible, but determining the legality of psychological deficiencies at the time of crimes. Educable mentally retarded programs or (EMR), is a term that is considered offensive within the twenty-first century because of the negative pejorative or connotation that is raised from those who have mental disabilities. In 2013, the Federal Register replaced the term "mental retardation" with "intellectual disability" to mitigate the negative stigma among those with disabilities (para. 1). The organization wanted to change the terminology of those (adults and children) who suffered from mental disabilities and be more specific on conditions. While reading the article I wondered, are those who are considered mentally impaired, is it necessarily an intellectual issue? Is there a difference between a person's mental and intellectual state? These are questions I believe would be raised within the criminal justice system, especially among civil rights, equality, and misdiagnosis of individuals, and I wonder if this would something can be proved. I shall see.

References

Aiken, L. R., & Groth-Marnat, G. (2006). Psychological testing and assessment.

            Boston: Pearson Education Group, Inc.

American Public University System (2018). Week 5 Lesson. Retrieved from 

https://edge.apus.edu/portal/site/387829/tool/6156a533-ceaf-4256-84eb-b640bfd94f56/ShowPage?returnView=&studentItemId=0&backPath=&errorMessage=&clearAttr=&source=&title=&sendingPage=2169523&newTopLevel=false&postedComment=false&addBefore=&itemId=7313707&path=push&addTool=-1&recheck=&id= (accessed on 30 July 2018). 

Cornell University. (n.d.). Diminished capacity. Retrieved from

https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/diminished_capacity (accessed on 30 July 2018). 

Cornell University. (n.d.). Twinkie defense. Retrieved from 

            https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/twinkie_defense (accessed on 30 July 2018).

DellaContrada, J. (2006). The 20 most psychologically intriguing legal cases. University 

            of Buffalo. Retrieved from 

            http://www.buffalo.edu/news/releases/2006/02/7796.html (accessed on 30 July 

            2018). 

Federal Register. (2013). Change in terminology: "Mental retardation" to "intellectual disability." Retrieved from https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2013/08/01/2013-18552/change-in-terminology-mental-retardation-to-intellectual-disability (accessed on 1 August 2018). 

Harvey, P. D. (2012). Clinical applications of neuropsychological assessment. National

            Institutes of Health, 14(1), pp. 91-99. 

Lindsey, R. (1985). Dan White, Killer of San Francisco Mayor, a sucide. The New York

Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1985/10/22/us/dan-white-killer-of-san-francisco-mayor-a-suicide.html (accessed on 30 July 2018). 

Rosen, J. (2015). Our Woody Allen problem. Psychology Today. Retrieved from 

            https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/201509/our-woody-allen-problem

            (accessed on 30 July 2018). 

Sleigh, J. (2018). What are the differences between intellectual disability and mental illness? Camphill Village. Retrieved from http://www.camphill.org.za/articles/what-are-the-differences-between-intellectual-disability-and-mental-illness (accessed on 1 August 2018). 

Dr. Monique Chouraeshkenazi