Forensic psychology

Forensic psychology is the intersection between psychology and the justice system. It involves understanding fundamental legal principles, particularly with regard to expert witness testimony and the specific content area of concern (e.g., competence to stand trial, child custody and visitation, or workplace discrimination), as well as relevant jurisdictional considerations (e.g., in the United States, the definition of insanity in criminal trials differs from state to state) in order to be able to interact appropriately with judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals. An important aspect of forensic psychology is the ability to testify in court as an expert witness, reformulating psychological findings into the legal language of the courtroom, providing information to legal personnel in a way that can be understood.[1] Further, in order to be a credible witness, the forensic psychologist must understand the philosophy, rules, and standards of the judicial system. Primarily, they must understand the adversarial system. There are also rules about hearsay evidence and most importantly, the exclusionary rule. Lack of a firm grasp of these procedures will result in the forensic psychologist losing credibility in the courtroom.[2]A forensic psychologist can be trained in clinical, social, organizational, or any other branch of psychology.[3]

Generally, a forensic psychologist is designated as an expert in a specific field of study. The number of areas of expertise in which a forensic psychologist qualifies as an expert increases with experience and reputation. Forensic neuropsychologists are generally asked to appear as expert witnesses in court to discuss cases that involve issues with the brain or brain damage. They may also deal with issues of whether a person is legally competent to stand trial.

Questions asked by the court of a forensic psychologist are generally not questions regarding psychology but are legal questions and the response must be in language the court understands. For example, a forensic psychologist is frequently appointed by the court to assess a defendant's competence to stand trial. The court also frequently appoints a forensic psychologist to assess the state of mind of the defendant at the time of the offense. This is referred to as an evaluation of the defendant's sanity or insanity (which relates to criminal responsibility) at the time of the offense.[4] These are not primarily psychological questions but rather legal ones. Thus, a forensic psychologist must be able to translate psychological information into a legal framework.[5]

Forensic psychologists may be called on to provide sentencing recommendations, treatment recommendations, or any other information the judge requests, such as information regarding mitigating factors, assessment of future risk, and evaluation of witness credibility. Forensic psychology also involves training and evaluating police or other law enforcement personnel, providing law enforcement with criminal profiles, and in other ways working with police departments. Forensic psychologists may work with any party and in criminal or family law. In the United States, they may also help with jury selection.[6]

Training and education

Forensic psychologists may hold a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in clinical psychology, counseling psychology, social psychology, organizational psychology, school psychology, or experimental psychology. In order for a psychologist to practice as a forensic psychologist in the United States, it is preferred, but not necessarily required, that the individual be a state licensed psychologist and receive certification as a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (although the latter is less important to judges). Ideally, the psychologist would have some years of postdoctoral experience in forensic psychology and have training and supervision in forensic psychology. However, practices vary from state to state and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In the United States legal system, the ultimate authority is the judge, and the judge may select whomever he or she sees fit to qualify as an expert.

In other countries, training and practitioner requirements may vary. In the United Kingdom, for example, a person must obtain the Graduate Basis for Registration with the British Psychological Society—normally through an undergraduate degree. This would be followed by Stages 1 (academic) and 2 (supervised practice) of the Diploma in Forensic Psychology (which would normally take 3 years full-time and 4 years part-time). Assessment occurs via examination, research, supervised practice, and the submission of a portfolio showing expertise across a range of criminological and legal applications of psychology. Once qualified as a "Chartered" psychologist (with a specialism in forensic psychology), a practitioner must engage in Continued Professional Development and demonstrate how much, of what kind, each year, in order to renew his/her practicing certificate.


Academic researcher

Academic forensic psychologists engage in teaching, researching, training, and supervision of students, and other education-related activities.[7] These professionals usually have an advanced degree in Psychology (most likely a PhD). While their main focus is research, it is not unusual for them to take on any of the other positions of forensic psychologists. These professionals may be employed at various settings, which include colleges and universities, research institutes, government or private agencies, and mental health agencies.[7] Forensic psychology research pertains to psychology and the law, whether it be criminal or civil.[7] Researchers test hypotheses empirically and apply the research on issues related to psychology and the law.[8] They may also conduct research on mental health law and policy evaluation.[7] Some famous psychologists in the field include Saul Kassin, very widely known for studying false confessions, and Elizabeth Loftus, known for her research on eyewitness memory. She has provided expert witness testimony for many cases.

Consultant to law enforcement

Forensic psychologists also assist with law enforcement. They work in collaboration with the police force or other law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement psychologists are responsible for assisting law enforcement personnel. They are frequently trained to help with crisis intervention, including post-trauma and suicide. Other duties of law enforcement psychologists include development of police training programs, stress management, personnel management, and referral of departmental personnel as well as their families for specialized treatment and counseling.[9] Of course, ethical issues may arise, such as the question of who the client is (the police officer referred or the department, in regards to confidentiality).[8]

Correctional psychologist

Correctional psychologists work with inmates and offenders in correctional settings. They serve both the role of an evaluator and a treatment provider to those who have been imprisoned or on parole or probation. Correctional psychologists may also take on the role of researcher or expert witness and frequently perform a wide range of psychological testing.

Evaluator

These forensic psychologists take on the role of evaluating parties in criminal or civil cases on mental health issues related to their case. For criminal cases, they may be called on to evaluate issues including, but not limited to, defendants' competence to stand trial, their mental state at the time of the offense (insanity), and their risk for future violent acts.[7] For civil cases, they may be called on to evaluate issues including, but not limited to, an individual’s psychological state after an accident or the families of custody cases.[7] Any assessment made by an evaluator is not considered a counseling session, and therefore whatever is said or done is not confidential. It is the obligation of the evaluator to inform the parties that everything in the session will be open to scrutiny in a forensic report or expert testimony.[8] Evaluators work closely with expert witnesses (discussed below) as many are called into court to testify with what they have come to conclude from their evaluations. They have a variety of employment settings, such as forensic and state psychiatric hospitals, mental health centers, and private practice. Evaluators usually have had training as clinical psychologists.[7]

Expert witness

Unlike fact witnesses, who are limited to testifying about what they know or have observed, expert witnesses have the ability to express opinion because, as their name suggests, they are presumed to be "experts" in a certain topic. They possess specialized knowledge about the topic. Expert witnesses are called upon to testify on matters of mental health (clinical expertise) or other areas of expertise such as social, experimental, cognitive, or developmental.[8] The role of being an expert witness is not primary and it is usually performed in conjunction with another role such as that of researcher, academic, evaluater, or clinical psychologist. Clinical forensic psychologists evaluate a defendant and are then called upon as expert witnesses to testify on the mental state of the defendant.[7]

In the past, expert witnesses primarily served the court rather than the litigants.[8] However, nowadays that very rarely happens and most of the recruitment for expert witness is completed by trial attorneys. But regardless of who calls in the expert, it is the judge who determines whether or not the expert witness will be accepted.[8]

All ethical expert witnesses must be able to resolve the issue of relating to the case and being an advocate. They must decide between loyalty to their field of expertise or to the outcome of the case.[8]

Treatment provider

Treatment providers are forensic psychologists who administer psychological intervention or treatment to individuals who require or request services in both criminal and civil cases. In criminal proceedings, treatment providers may be asked to provide psychological interventions to individuals who require treatment for the restoration of competency, after having been determined by the courts as incompetent to stand trial.[7] They may be asked to provide treatment for the mental illness of those deemed insane at the crime.[7] They may also be called to administer treatment to minimize the likelihood of future acts of violence for individuals who may be at a high risk of committing a violent offense.[7] As for civil proceedings, treatment providers may have to treat families going through divorce and/or custody cases. They may also provide treatment to individuals who have suffered psychological injuries as a result of some kind of trauma.[7] Treatment providers and evaluators work in the same types of settings: forensic and state psychiatric hospitals, mental health centers, and private practices. Not surprisingly, their work may greatly overlap. And although not ethically encouraged, the same forensic psychologist may take on both the role of treatment provider and evaluator for the same client.

Trial consultant

Forensic psychologists are often involved in trial consulting and are part of legal psychology[3]. A trial consultant, a jury consultant, or a litigation consultant, are social scientists who work with legal professionals such as a trial attorney to aid in case preparation, which includes selection of; jury, development of case strategy, and witness preparation.[7][8] Trial Consultants rely heavily on research. Trial consultants may also attend seminars directed at the improvement of jury selection and trial presentation skills.[8] Becoming a trial consultant does not necessarily require a doctoral degree or even a bachelor's degree. To become a trial consultant, all that may be necessary is some level of training.[8]

Trial consultants are faced with many ethical issues. Not only are they social scientists; they may be entrepreneurs as well, marketing their business and keeping fixed costs. This is a challenge to their ethical responsibilities as applied researchers who need to be following guidelines of ethical research.[8] Trial consultants are hired by attorneys and conflicts may arise when each party has a different viewpoint on a certain issue, such as which prospective jurors should be excused, whether the jurors’ preferences are appropriate for the case or not, etc. They must always keep in mind that they are employees of the attorneys and are not able to make the ultimate decisions regarding the case.[8]

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