16 May 2017

Questions for defense expert Prof. Faustmann

Today the court and parties questioned expert witness Prof. Faustmann, who had been summoned by Zschäpe’s “old” defense counsel Heer, Stahl and Sturm to present a “critique of methodology” of expert witness Prof. Saß.

The central critique presented by Faustmann turned out to be one aspect of Saß’ expert statement which is quite genial in its modesty: Saß stressed that psychiatry is not a natural science and that forensic psychiatry, a science tasked with presenting prognoses in individual cases, can never be free of subjective assessments and the influence of the individual knowledge of the expert witness. According to Saß, therefore, one main quality criterion for forensic psychiatric expert opinions is that they present the material in an accessible manner and that the reader – in this case the court – is able to follow and reconstruct the expert’s arguments.

Faustmann, on the other hand, argues for a scientific objectivization and “operationalization” of methods employed – without, however, being able to show that this would lead to much improvement and not simply to a pseudo-scientific reasoning based on simply marking check-lists. In contrast thereto, Saß’ honesty concerning the limits of psychiatry is rather refreshing.

Faustmann also failed to note where his personal views put him squarely in the minority among German-speaking psychiatrists: inter alia, he believes that psychiatrists should not present forensic prognoses for persons not suffering from a mental illness, as such cases should instead be examined by psychologists. The opposing view is held not only by German courts, who routinely appoint psychiatrists as experts in such cases, but also by the vast majority of German psychiatrists.

Some of Faustmann’s comments also seemed rather nitpicky, such as when he gave lengthy comments on certain methods which Saß had referred to in in his opinion, but had not in fact applied.

Interestingly, however, Faustmann also did not agree with defense counsel Stahl who had asked him to confirm that Saß’ expert opinion could not be relied upon by the court – that, he felt, was for the court to decide, aided in that decision by his critique of methodology.

Altogether, these is no reason to believe that Faustmann’s critique will raise any doubts in the minds of the judges as to the validity of Saß’ expert opinion.