is the intersection between Psychology and the legal system. It is a division
of applied psychology concerned with the collection, examination and presentation
of psychological evidence for judicial purposes.
practice of forensic psychology involves understanding applicable law in the relevant
jurisdictions in order to be able to make legal evaluations and interact appropriately
with judges, attorneys and other legal professionals. An important aspect of forensic
psychology is the ability to testify in court, reformulating psychological findings
into the legal language of the courtroom to provide information to legal personnel
in a way that can be understood. Further,
in order to be a credible witness, for example in the United States, the forensic
psychologist must understand the philosophy, rules and standards of the American
judicial system, as well as display competency in psychological practice. Primary
is an understanding of the adversarial model under which the system functions.
There are also rules about hearsay evidence and importantly the exclusionary rule.
Lack of a firm grasp of these procedures will result in the forensic psychologist
losing credibility in the courtroom.
forensic psychologist can be trained in clinical, social, organizational or any
other branch of psychology.
In the United States, the salient issue is the designation by the court as an
expert witness by training, experience or both by the judge. Generally,
a forensic psychologist is designated as an expert in a particular jurisdiction.
The number of jurisdictions in which a forensic psychologist qualifies as an expert
increases with experience and reputation.
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 competency 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. 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.
psychologists also provide sentencing recommendations, treatment recommendations,
and 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
personal, providing law enforcement with criminal profiles and in other ways working
with police departments. Forensic psychologists work both with the Public Defender,
the States Attorney, and private attorneys. Forensic psychologists may also help
with jury selection.
between forensic and therapeutic evaluation
forensic psychologist's interactions with and ethical responsibilities to the
client differ widely from those of a psychologist dealing with a client in a clinical
- Scope. Rather than
the broad set of issues a psychologist addresses in a clinical setting, a forensic
psychologists address a narrowly defined set of events or interactions of a nonclinical
of client's perspective. A clinician places primary importance on understanding
the client's unique point of view, while the forensic psychologist is interested
in accuracy, and the client's viewpoint is secondary.
Usually in a clinical setting a psychologist is dealing with a voluntary client.
A forensic psychologist evaluates clients by order of a judge or at the behest
of an attorney.
Voluntary clients have more latitude and autonomy regarding the assessment's objectives.
Any assessment usually takes their concerns into account. The objectives of a
forensic examination are confined by the applicable statues or common law elements
that pertain to the legal issue in question.
to validity. While the client and therapist are working toward a common goal,
although unconscious distortion may occur, in the forensic context there is a
substantially greater likelihood of intentional and conscious distortion.
and dynamics. Therapeutic interactions work toward developing a trusting,
empathic therapeutic alliance, a forensic psychologist may not ethically nurture
the client or act in a "helping" role, as the forensic evaluator had divided loyalties
and there are substantial limits on confidentiality he can guarantee the client.
A forensic evaluator must always be aware of manipulation in the adversary context
of a legal setting. This concerns mandate an emotional distance that is unlike
a therapeutic interaction.
and setting. Unlike therapeutic interactions which may be guided be many factors,
the forensic setting with its court schedules, limited resources, and other external
factors, place great time constrains on the evaluation without opportunities for
reevaluation. The forensic examiner focuses on the importance of accuracy and
the finality of legal dispositions.
forensic psychologist views the client or defendant from a different point of
view than does a traditional clinical psychologist. Seeing the situation from
the client's point of view or "empathizing" is not the forensic psychologist's
task. Traditional psychological tests and interview procedure are not sufficient
when applied to the forensic situation. In forensic evaluations, it is important
to assess the consistency of factual information across multiple sources. Forensic
evaluators must be able to provide the source on which any information is based.
Unlike more traditional applications of clinical psychology, informed consent
is not required when the assessment is ordered by the court. Instead, the defendant
simply needs to be notified regarding the purpose of the evaluation and the fact
that he or she will have no control over how the information obtained is used.
While psychologists infrequently have to be concerned about malingering or feigning
illness in a non-criminal clinical setting, a forensic psychologist must be able
to recognize exaggerated or faked symptoms. Malingering exists on a continuum
so the forensic psychologist must be skilled in recognizing varying degrees of
psychologists perform a wide range of tasks within the criminal justice system.
By far the largest is that of preparing for and providing testimony in the court
room. This task has become increasingly difficult as attorneys have become sophisticated
at undermining psychological testimony. Evaluating the client, preparing
for testimony, and the testimony itself require the forensic psychologist to have
a firm grasp of the law and the legal situation at issue in the courtroom, using
the Crime Classification Manual and other sources. This knowledge must be integrated with
the psychological information obtained from testing, psychological and mental
status exams, and appropriate assessment of background materials, such as police
reports, prior psychiatric or psychological evaluations, medical records and other
available pertinent information.
overriding issue in any type of forensic assessment is the issue of malingering
and deception. A defendant may be intentionally faking a mental illness or may
be exaggerating the degree of symptomatology. The forensic psychologist must always
keep this possibility in mind. It is important if malingering is suspected to
observe the defendant in other settings as it is difficult to maintain false symptoms
consistently over time. In some cases, the court views malingering
or feigning illness as obstruction of justice and sentences the defendant accordingly.
In United States v. Binion, malingering or feigning illness during a competency
evaluation was held to be obstruction of justice and led to an enhanced sentence. As such, fabricating mental illness in a competency-to-stand-trial
assessment now can be raised to enhance the sentencing level following a guilty
there is a question of the accused's competency to stand trial, a forensic psychologist
is appointed by the court to examine and assess the individual. The individual
may be in custody or may have been released on bail. Based on the forensic assessment,
a recommendation is made to the court whether or not the defendant is competent
to proceed to trial. If the defendant is considered incompetent to proceed, the
report or testimony will include recommendations for the interim period during
which an attempt at restoring the individual's competency to understand the court
and legal proceedings, as well as participate appropriately in their defense will
be made. Often, this
is an issue of the defendant complying with prescribed psychiatric medication
for a period long enough for the medication to take effect. If the individual
does not gain competence after a suitable period of time, that person may be involuntarily
committed, on the advice of a forensic psychologist, to a psychiatric treatment
facility until such time as the individual is deemed competent.
a result of Ford v. Wainwright, a case by a Florida inmate on death row that was
brought before the Supreme Court of the United States, forensic psychologists
are appointed to assess the competency of an inmate to be executed in death penalty
forensic psychologist may also be appointed by the court to evaluate the defendant's
state of mind at the time of the offense. These are defendants who the judge,
prosecutor or public defender believe, through personal interaction with the defendant
or through reading the police report, may have been significantly impaired at
the time of the offense. In other situations, the defense attorney may decide
to have the defendant plead not guilty by reason of insanity. In this case, usually
the court appoints forensic evaluators and the defense may hire their own forensic
expert. In actual practice, this is rarely a plea in a trial. Usually any judgments
about the defendant's state of mind at the time of the offense are made by the
court before the trial process begins. 
in situations where the defendant's mental disorder does not
meet the criteria for a not guilty by reason of insanity defense, the defendant's
state of mind at the time, as well as relevant past history of mental disorder
and psychological abuse can be used to attempt a mitigation of sentence. The forensic
psychologist's evaluation and report is an important element in presenting evidence
for sentence mitigation. In Hamblin v. Mit, 335 F.3d
482 (6th Cir. 2003), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision
of a lower court because counsel did not thoroughly investigate the defendant's
mental history in preparation for the sentencing phase of the trial. Specifically,
the court stated that such investigation should include members of the defendant's
immediate and extended family, medical history, and family and social history
(including physical and mental abuse,domestic violence, exposure to traumatic
events and criminal violence). This
issue was further addressed in Wiggins v. Smith and Bigby v. Dretke.
psychologists are frequently asked to make an assessment of an individual's risk
of re-offending or dangerousness. They may provide information and recommendations
necessary for sentencing purposes, grants of probation, and the formulation of
conditions of parole, which often involves an assessment of the offender's ability
to be rehabilitated. They are also asked questions of witness credibility and
malingering. Occasionally, they may also provide criminal
profiles to law enforcement.
to the Supreme Court decision upholding involuntary commitment laws for preditory
sex offenders in Kansas v. Hendricks, it is likely that forensic psychologists
will become involved in making recommendations in individual cases of end of sentence
civil commitment decisions.
forensic psychologist generally practices within the confines of the courtroom,
incarceration facilities, and other legal setting. It is important to remember
that the forensic psychologist is equally likely to be testifying for the prosecution
as for the defense attorney. A forensic psychologist does not take a side, as
do the psychologists described below. The ethical standards for a forensic psychologist differ
from those of a clinical psychologist or other practicing psychologist because
the forensic psychologist is not an advocate for the client and nothing the client
says is guaranteed to be keep confidential. This makes evaluation of the client
difficult, as the forensic psychologist needs and wants to obtain certain information
while it is often not in the client's best interest to provide it. The client
has no control over how that information is used. Despite the signing of a waiver of confidentiality,
most clients do no realize the nature of the evaluative situation. Furthermore, the interview techniques differ
from those typical of a clinical psychologist and require an understanding of
the criminal mind and criminal and violent behavior.
For example, even indicating to a defendant being interviewed that an effort will
be made to get the defendant professional help may be grounds for excluding the
expert's testimony. In addition,
the forensic psychologist deals with a range of clients unlike those of the average
practicing psychology. Because the client base is by and large criminal, the forensic
psychologist is immersed in an abnormal world. As such, the population evaluated by
the forensic psychologist is heavily weighted with specific personality disorders.
typical grounds for malpractice suits also apply to the forensic psychologist,
such as wrongful commitment, inadequate informed consent, duty and breach of duty,
and standards of care issues. Some situations are more clear cut for the forensic
psychologist. The duty to warn, which is mandated by many states, is generally
not a problem because the client or defendant has already signed a release of
information, unless the victim is not clearly identified and the issue of the
identifiability of the victim arises. However, in general the forensic psychologist
is less likely to encounter malpractice suits than a clinical psychologist. The
forensic psychologist does have some additional professional liability issues.
As mentioned above, confidentiality in a forensic setting is more complicated
that in a clinical setting as the client or defendant is apt to misinterpret the
limits of confidentiality despite being warned and signing a release.
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