German criminal lawyer on psychological expert opinion on the credibility of a testimony

German Criminal lawyer on latest case law:

The obtaining of a psychological expert opinion is only required by case law if the facts of the case or the personality of the witness have such special features that it is doubtful whether the court's own expertise is sufficient to assess the credibility under the given special circumstances (BGH, judgment v. 4.10.2017 - 2 StR 219/15).

psychological expert opinion on the credibility of a testimony

Even below this level of imperative necessity, courts today obtain psychological expert opinions in criminal proceedings for sexual offences, which are also known under the term credibility expert report. The question to be answered by the expert is whether the incriminating facts described by the witness are based on an actual experience.

If the experience-based nature of the testimony is questionable, judges and prosecutors are increasingly calling on psychiatric or psychological experts. This development is pleasing from the point of view of criminal defence, because some judges used to insist that judging the credibility of a testimony was the judge's very own task.

It is true that the assessment of the credibility of witness statements is in principle the task of the court of fact. According to the case-law of the Federal Court of Justice, however, the involvement of a psychological or psychiatric expert is necessary if there are special features which cast doubt on whether, under the given circumstances, the expert knowledge of the court of fact is sufficient to assess the credibility of the witness.

Such compelling particularities may include, but are not limited to, mental illness and hysterical characteristics of the witness or dependence on alcohol or medication. According to case law, the involvement of an expert may also become necessary because external circumstances are noticeable, such as a special relationship of authority in the family, at work or at an educational institution, or if there are indications of suggestive influence.

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