A man employed by the courts to play a pivotal role in criminal trials is accused of putting those trials in jeopardy. A search warrant has been issued for Dr. Albert Fink, the court-appointed forensic psychologist who was set to testify in the high-profile arson trial of Caleb Loving. Dr. Fink apparently admitted to falsifying his report regarding Loving’s competency to stand trial and also alluded to falsifying reports in other cases, prosecutors said Friday.
Prosecutors also acknowledged that Dr. Fink apparently admitted to falsifying reports in which he never conducted an interview with the defendant.
Dr. Fink, who is based out of Bloomington but also has an Evansville office, faces charges of obstruction of justice and theft. Additional charges are expected to be filed, Prosecutor Nick Hermann said.
“t appears that he has betrayed that trust and it is something out office is taking very seriously,” Hermann said at a press conference Friday.
Dr. Fink was neither a prosecution witness nor a defense witness. He is appointed by the court and is responsible for interviewing the defendant and using his experience in determining whether the defendant is mentally competent to stand trial.
In the third day of the Loving trial, the prosecution and defense filed a joint motion requesting a mistrial, an extremely rare move in most criminal proceedings. The motion was warranted because authorities began to have questions about the accuracy of Dr. Fink’s report.
Indiana state law requires the court to appoint two forensic psychologists to interview a defendant if his or her competency is called into question.
The day before the mistrial was declared, Dr. Fink was involved a single-vehicle accident in Bloomington. According to Indiana State Police Sgt. Todd Ringle, troopers noted that Dr. Fink appeared to have intentionally left the roadway before hitting the tree.
He remains hospitalized but only suffered minor cuts and abrasions.
During an interview with investigators, Dr. Fink reportedly admitted to falsifying Loving’s report and many more in the past. Hermann said Dr. Fink has testified in 70 criminal cases — many of which are considered serious offenses — in Vanderburgh County and possibly hundreds of cases across the state. Hermann said his office has been in contact with prosecutors in other counties to alert them to the situation. Hermann said his office has also contacted the Attorney General’s Office.
There are no legal ‘checks and balances’ to ensure court-appointed expert witnesses actually interviewed the defendants other than they risk perjury if called to testify.
“Juries are instructed that they are to assume that everyone who testifies under oath is telling the truth,” Hermann said. “They are to keep that assumption to the point that evidence somehow contradicts that.”
Because of the seriousness of the allegations against Dr. Fink, Hermann acknowledged there could be numerous legal challenges as to the validity of the verdicts rendered in the cases that Dr. Fink testified.
Some of those verdicts could be overturned which would mean a re-trial. Convincing a jury a second time around is no guarantee.
“That’s the worst case scenario,” Hermann said. “I think [it is] theoretically possible… We are very good at re-trying cases. Any time there is a potential that the case comes back whether it’s on appeal or post conviction relief, whenever there is a possibility of a re-trial, you really re-victimize those people again.”
Hermann said his office is now in the process of slogging through the case files of the 70 cases in which Dr. Fink testified. It’s frustrating, Hermann said, and it diverts valuable resources from an already tightly-budgeted office.
“I know sometimes there’s a perception that we’re out to get convictions and we’re out to get people found guilty,” Hermann said. “Ultimately, our job is to find the truth and to present the truth to the judge and jury. I’m glad we found out. Everyone in our office is glad we found out.”
Of the 70 cases that Dr. Fink was featured in, there was one murder case and no capital punishment cases. The one murder case has yet to be adjudicated and, therefore, should not be negatively impacted by the allegations against Dr. Fink, Hermann said.