The Tarasoff dilemma in criminal court

J Forensic Sci. 1991 May;36(3):728-35.


The duty to protect, or Tarasoff duty, has been conceptualized as arising solely in the context of a clinical setting. A recent California Supreme Court ruling in People v. Clark adds legal, clinical, and ethical dilemmas to the oftentimes contentious Tarasoff issue. Though the Tarasoff issue is but a minor legal point in Clark, a possible consequence of Clark is that a Tarasoff warning could be deemed nonconfidential and admissible in a criminal trial. Psychotherapists could therefore be testifying in criminal courts as prosecution witnesses. While the possibility of a chilling effect on patients' disclosure of violent ideation in the context of psychotherapy first caused apprehension after the California Supreme Court's 1976 decision in Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, this same Court's ruling in People v. Clark some 14 years later may ensure that this fear finally becomes realized.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • California
  • Confidentiality / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Ethics
  • Fantasy
  • Female
  • Firesetting Behavior
  • Forensic Psychiatry*
  • Homicide
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mentally Ill Persons*
  • Professional Competence
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Rape