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United States of America v. Helga Weis

August 9, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge


Defendant Helga Weis ("Weis") is charged in a three-count indictment with conspiracy to commit robbery and attempting to knowingly commit a robbery, both in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a), and using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)(A),(2). Weis filed a notice pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 12.2(b) indicating that she intends to raise the defenses of coercion or involuntariness as a result of constant, severe battering. She submitted two reports to the government from Licensed Clinical Social Worker Phyllis Gould, and has filed a written Offer of Proof as to Gould's testimony. (Dkt. No. 91 ("Offer of Proof").) The government then filed a motion in limine seeking to bar Gould's testimony. For the reasons stated, the motion is granted.


Weis is accused of working with two individuals in March 2010 to plan a robbery of their cocaine supplier and one of their customers. Weis allegedly met with the drug customer, obtained $1,500 from him, and then met with the supplier in his car to get the drugs from him. During that meeting, she allegedly used her phone to signal to her partners that the robbery could commence. A gunman then approached both Weis and the supplier and threatened them, firing the gun into the car. Weis gave the drug customer's money to the gunman, who then left with the money. One of the individuals involved in the robbery was Weis' then-boyfriend, referred to in the filings as Individual A.

On Feb. 9, 2012, the government filed its first motion in limine to exclude Gould's testimony, or for a Daubert hearing to determine its relevance and reliability. After that motion was briefed, I ordered Weis to file a written Offer of Proof regarding Gould's testimony so that I might better evaluate its admissibility.

According to the Offer of Proof, Gould plans to testify that she earned her master's degree from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She has worked as an adjunct professor at St. Augustine College in the social work program. She is currently in full-time private practice, where she provides general counseling services to individuals, couples, and families. She also specializes in immigration removal proceedings involving the Violence Against Women Act, and has been called as an expert witness in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court. She has submitted expert reports in mitigation in two criminal cases in this district.

Gould is expected to testify that Weis was referred to her for assessment because she was depressed and traumatized as a result of the abuse she received at the hands of her former boyfriend. Gould interviewed Weis on five occasions from April 14, 2011, through May 12, 2011, more than a year after the alleged attempted robbery. She also met with Weis' mother and her two young children, for a total of 15 hours in interviews.

Gould also reviewed certain documents, including: (1) color photos taken by the Chicago police in Weis' apartment in May 2008 when they responded to a domestic violence call. The photos show her apartment in disarray and depict Weis with a split and bloodied lip and bruises on various parts of her body; (2) court documents, including the indictment and a pretrial services report; (3) documents from Casa Central, where Weis completed a domestic violence course in 2011; (4) letters from Weis' mother, the father of her children, and a friend; and (5) an order of protection Weis obtained against Individual A. The government notes that Gould did not review certain recordings between Weis and Individual A made around the time of the events in question.

Gould would testify about the process of making a diagnosis, and that it is based on the person's reporting of symptoms and her own observations of the person's behavior. She would also explain the use of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and explain her findings regarding Weis. Gould would testify that Weis exhibited signs of anxiety, stress, and depression, problems with her memory and concentration, and low self-esteem. Her behavior, according to Gould, is best understood by a diagnosis of Self-Defeating (Masochistic) Personality Disorder.

As explained in her first report*fn1 , Gould relied upon an Internet article in explaining this disorder. (Dkt. No. 70-1, at 3.) The Aug. 26, 2011, article cited by Gould was on the web site, which compiles articles from independent authors on a variety of topics. See About_Examiner.*fn2 The article relies primarily on other Internet sources and was written by a student, Gregory Pacana.*fn3 According to the Pacana article, Self-Defeating Personality Disorder was included in a draft of the DSM-III, but not the DSM-IV, although it is "still recognized by some clinicians as a valid personality disorder." The current version of the DSM does not contain a listing for Self-Defeating Personality Disorder. See DSM-IV-TR (4th ed. Text Revision 2000). The DSM "provides a standard, comprehensive diagnostic tool for evaluating mental disorders, and reflects a consensus opinion of the medical community at the time of publication." Dellarcirprete v. Gutierrez, 479 F. Supp. 2d 600, 606 (N.D. W.Va. 2007)(quoting United States v. Thomas, No. CRIM. CCB-03-0150, 2006 WL 140558, at *3 n.6 (D. Md. Jan. 13, 2006)). Weis acknowledges that the DSM is the standard manual used to diagnose mental disorders. Offer of Proof, 4.

In her report, Gould describes the diagnostic criteria for Self-Defeating Personality Disorder as listed in Pacana's article as coming from the DSM-IV-TR. (Dkt. No. 70-1, at 3.) In fact, the article does not attribute the diagnostic criteria to the DSM-IV. The diagnostic criteria listed in the Pacana article and relied upon by Gould are: (1) choosing people and situations that lead to disappointment, failure, or mistreatment, even when better options are available; (2) rejecting or rendering ineffective attempts by other people to help; (3) following positive personal events with depression, guilt, or pain-inducing behavior; (4) inciting anger or rejection from others, and then feeling hurt, defeated, or humiliated; (5) rejecting opportunities for pleasure; (6) failing to accomplish tasks crucial to one's personal objectives despite the ability to do so; (7) rejecting caring partners; and (8) engaging in excessive self-sacrifice.

Weis has most of these symptoms, according to Gould. Gould opined that this disorder interfered with Weis' ability to think logically because she was consumed with a desire to gain Individual A's love and approval. Gould also administered the Beck Depression and Anxiety Inventories, and Weis fell in the range of severe depression and anxiety.

The government seeks to exclude all of Gould's testimony, arguing that the Offer of Proof does not satisfy Fed. R. Evid. 702, as the proposed ...

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