The Trial of Bernhard Goetz: Testimony of Dr. Bernhard Yudwitz
The following excerpt is included in The Trial of Bernhard Goetz (Aae Films, 1988).
Direct Examination by Barry Slotnick:
Slotnick: Dr. Yudwitz, what is your profession.
Slotnick: In the course of your profession have you had occasion to consult and analyze individuals who have discharged firearms under circumstances of fear and trauma?
Witness: I have sir.
Slotnick: Now...did you have occasion to make a determination as to the bodies biological responses to fear?
Witness: I have sir.
Slotnick: And did those determinations support your long standing knowledge of the bodies responses to fear.
Witness: They have indeed.
Slotnick: Your Honor respectfully at this time I would ask that this witness be qualified as an expert.
Witness: I am qualifying this witness as an expert in biological responses to fear members of the jury but it is up to you to determine whether he is such an expert and if so whether and to what extent he will accept his expert opinion. He is qualified for these purposes.
Slotnick: Thank you, thank you Your Honor.
Slotnick: Now assume the circumstances under which an individual discharges a firearm because he fears a definite threat to his physical safety and in response to that he discharges a weapon. How does the body react at that point?
Witness: Well if the individual is in a fearful situation and discharging a weapon the body goes on what we call automatic pilot. Once started that typical physical action. That action continues until completion.
Slotnick: In other words, one keeps on going automatically.
Witness: It is the body in control at that time rather than the mind being in control at that time.
Slotnick: I see and can you cite some examples of this phenomenon?
Witness: Oh there are numerous examples. Ah someone as swimming underwater for a much longer time than they would be able to do under ordinary circumstances. Four or five people holding down a person who wants to run into a house to rescue a child. It is an extraordinary response that we have the capacity for it. It is only stimulated when there are life-threatening situations.
Slotnick: And am I correct, this may or may not happen depending on the individual?
Witness: Yes, depending upon the circumstances of the individual, yes.
Slotnick: Thank you, thank you very much.
Cross-examination by Gregory Waples:
Waples: All right doctor, just so I understand your testimony. You’re acknowledging, are you not, that each individual response to stress is unique. Is that correct?
Witness: Within a certain threshold, yes.
Waples: And you have not examined the defendant in this case, have you?
Witness: I have not.
Waples: So your testimony should not be construed by this jury as reflecting in any way an assessment of how this individual defendant reacted to stress on December 22, 1984 or on any other date?
Slotnick: He hasn’t been presented for that purpose Your Honor.
Waples: So, the answer is your testimony should be so understood?
Witness: That is correct.
Waples: Thank you. Nothing else.
Judge: Thank you doctor you may step down.