I often get searches asking how to beat a sociopath in court. I keep intending on writing a “major post” but haven’t gotten around to it. The short answer to both searches is that I don’t know. So here’s a thinking aloud post.
In trying to answer “How to cross-examine a sociopath?” I’m aiming at jarring the sociopath into revealing their true self. I’m trying to find that “cape of red,” that challenge that can’t go unanswered.
Unfortunately, this still will not usually happen. I’ve worked at a number of law firms, and for the times I’d hear, “The opposing party has a real temper, we’ll try to get him to blow up on the stand,” I rarely heard of it actually happening. However, I’m betting it happens more often with sociopaths. The prosecution team must have thought they had died and gone to heaven when Wayne Williams said, “You want to see the real Wayne Williams, I’ll show you the real Wayne Williams.” So here goes:
1. All sociopaths are in a state of arrested development. Try to figure out where personality development stopped (from 8 to 12, I suppose) for that individual. Target your approach for that age.
2. The sociopath will have a child’s emotional hypersensitivity corresponding to that age. Recall Clinton’s takedown of Newt Gingrich.
3. Since sociopaths live in a pejorative universe, state things as pejoratively as possible. What’s important to them are the emotions behind the words, words themselves are simply tools. In Keith Morrison’s interview of David Hampton (the subject of Six Degrees of Separation), David Hampton was essentially bragging about his lying prowess. Morrison then said (paraphrasing) ‘you know what I think? I think you’re nothing but a goddamn liar‘. David Hampton then threw his glass of wine in Keith Morrison’s face. I believe it was that derisive ‘goddamn liar‘ and its negative connotations that did it.
Once I was called into HR (at Lehman Brothers) for handing out 8-10 pages (from Hare’s Without Conscience and Cleckley’s Mask of Sanity) to friends on recognizing sociopaths. (I wouldn‘t do this again, there is no way to learn that from reading material alone.) When I told the SVP why, she suddenly started screaming at me, ‘we have 15,000 employees, of course we have sociopaths working here’ — and then she collected herself. She interpreted my comment as criticism of sociopaths working there, imo. In this case, it was regarding one of the two most monstrous sociopaths I’ve ever known.
4. From both David Hampton and that SVP I concluded that the self control of a sociopath is only relative, that it is difficult for them and can slip at any time under the right pressure. That’s what the cross examiner should aim for. (I also concluded from that SVP that sociopaths recognize and protect each other. If at all possible screen the jury to prevent the seating of fellow sociopaths.)
Ask medical or dental personnel how often they run into patients who attack them upon their giving injections. This is one point where the curtain is ripped away and the sociopath (some sociopaths) will react like an animal under attack — all self control is thrown aside by the dictates of self defense.
5. Show as much disrespect as you can get away with. In sociopathic gangs no one lights another’s cigarette just to be friendly. It is all defined by the food chain pecking order. Similarly being polite is taken as respect for their place on the food chain vis-a-vis yourself. We were all taught to do unto others as we would have done unto us — this is totally misunderstood by sociopaths. Speaking for myself, I was raised a Quaker and I find it almost impossible not be stay polite. However, looking back, there were definitely times when that was a mistake.
6. Sociopaths are very elemental. Such simplistic tactics as having someone stare at them can be very unsettling for them. Or put together a legal team of big, imposing individuals. They seem to think that the civilized world is only onion skin thin and at any time the world could revert to the law of the jungle. You want them to stay off kilter.
7. Depending on the circumstances, the cross examiner may want to let the sociopath ramble in order to disclose their arrogance and disordered thinking. Rodney Alcala (http://pathwhisperer.wordpress.com/2010/03/03/psychopath-on-tape-rodney-alcala/), Rabbi Israel Weingarten (http://pathwhisperer.wordpress.com/2009/03/08/incest-dad-represents-self-in-court-cross-examines-daughter/), and Jon Alexander (http://pathwhisperer.wordpress.com/2008/11/15/october-and-november-items-with-that-sociopathic-flavor/, http://www.popeater.com/2009/09/01/top-model-designer-gets-life-in-prison/, http://www.fashionlurve.com/tag/anand-jon-alexander/) did themselves no favors by being their own counsel. Imo, their mistake was not imagining they could lose, being pathologically optimistic.
8. Find a way to call out a sociopathic party or witness for fake tears and grief. Of course it is considered bad form to question another’s expression of grief but this is a tactic sociopaths use all the time. Recall Steinbrenner’s “tears” on the stand, or Jesse James’ recent performance, http://www.popeater.com/2010/05/21/jesse-james-nightline-video .
9. Read The Psychopath’s Bible, http://www.scribd.com/doc/11554313/The-Psychopaths-Bible (or if you can find one, read the original). This is one of the most stunning things in the world, it’s absolutely for real. As the psychopathic authors attest: “One of the axioms of life is this: even if you tell the truth—perhaps because you tell the truth—no one will believe you.” Well, I believe them.