agen and Albert Osborn. How did document examiners delineate their sphere of expertise--how much did they claim to know and with what degree of certainty? What strategies did they use to acquire and maintain legitimacy?
The rise of the professional document examiner is particularly interesting because it marks the first genuinely forensic science to receive legal sanction * that is, it was the first kind of expertise which existed almost exclusively for forensic purposes. Unlike surgeons, chemists, engineers, physicians, microscopists, alienists, and the myriad other scientific experts commonplace in the courtroom in this period, whose activities were not primarily forensic, but who might on occasion, bring their expertise to bear in the courtroom, document examination was, first, and foremost, a forensic activity. This paper will also try, quite explicitly, to bring to bear recent perspectives from the history and sociology of science while exploring the rise of document examination as a court-sanctioned science.
Reluctant Heroes: Psychiatrists, Sexual
Psychopath Statutes and the Production of Expertise in the United States,
Stephen Robertson, Department of History, George Mason University
A panic about sex crime swept the United States between 1937 and 1940 and then again in the decade after World War Two. A series of sex murders of young children precipitated the panic in 1937; another series in 1949 rekindled the panic and took it to new heights. Extensive coverage of sex crime in local newspapers, national magazines and radio broadcasts, the campaigns of citizen's groups and the comments of law enforcement officials such as FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover generated anxiety that the incidence of sex crime had increased and evoked the specter of men being released or paroled to reoffend, perhaps even to kill. When journalists and politicians cast about for answers to the problem of sex crime, they turned primarily to psychiatrists. At a conference of judges, social workers, psychiatrists and public officials on sex crimes in New York City in 1937, in an oft-repeated scene, "most of the day was spent in an effort to draw out from the eminent psychiatrists present some advice as to how to treat the ingrained offenders brought to the courts for overt acts of sexual immorality."
The press and public officials seized on the psychiatric concept "sexual psychopath" to characterize men who committed sex crimes and employed it to cast them as mentally ill but not legally insane. State legislatures crafted their response to the sex crime panic in these terms: in the late 1930s, five states enacted 'sexual psychopath' statutes; another twenty-one states enacted such laws in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The statutes targeted not specific acts but a particular personality or identity -- someone who lacked any ability to control his sexual impulses -- that only psychiatrists could identify. They allowed any man convicted of a sex crime and diagnosed as a psychopath to be held indefinitely, until psychiatrists declared him cured.
Although some psychiatrists promoted the concept of sexual psychopath, most regarded it and laws that relied on it with distinct ambivalence. They attacked definitions of sexual psychopathy as vague and controversial, challenged the premise on which the state relied, namely, that minor sex crime heralded a propensity for more serious sexual violence or murder, and questioned their ability to cure sex criminals. Most psychiatrists were reluctant heroes in the fight against sex crime, largely pulled into the criminal justice system and granted authority as a result of the media and politicians' appropriation and construction of psychiatric expertise.
This paper will examine the relationship
between psychiatrists and the sexual pyschopath statutes. I will focus on
psychiatrists response to the drafting and enactment of the laws, their
role in the limited application of the laws and, finally, their
contribution to the repeal of the statutes in the 1960s and 1970s. These
topics raise questions about the nature of expertise in the mid-twentieth
century United States, the relationship between experts and the knowledge
they generate and the role that cultural forces rather than ambitious
practitioners play in the construction of expertise. These questions are
particularly timely in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 1997 decision
in Kansas v. Hendricks, which has opened the way for 'sexual predator'
laws that echo sexual psychopath statutes in their appropriation of
controversial psychiatric expertise as a means of enacting harsher
punishment of sex offenders.
The Chair, Randall McGowen, Department of History, University of Oregon