Someone commits a horrible crime and gets caught. The question is, why did he do it? Was he insane? Is he able to stand trial? What are the psychological circumstances around the crime. If the court has questions like that and need an expert to inform it, who do they call? Well, one option is they call in aforensic psychologist.
Part of the forensic psychologist’s job description is to provide expert testimony in court.
The forensic psychologist must be a professional psychologist, with a strong background in psychological testing, diagnostic skills, and clinical interviewing. However, the forensic psychologist must be steeped in the language of the justice system, conversant with the rules of evidence like a professional law enforcement officer, and able to testify in court in a way the court can understand.
Was there an underlying condition that caused the defendant to commit the crime? Are there mitigating circumstances? The ability of an expert to credibly confirm conditions like psychosis, brain damage, clinically significant mental dysfunction may influence a jury or a judge in coming to a verdict or affect the sentencing.
The forensic psychologist has to be able to make important recommendations to the court. How can the defendant be treated? What are the future risks of repeated criminal activity? How credible were certain witnesses? How much should the court rely on certain testimony?
Working with defense lawyers and prosecutors, the forensic psychologist may be called upon to help select jurors for trials and help design the questions that counsel should ask prospective jurors to help in jury selection.
Forensic psychologists often work with the police.
They could be part of the training of police officers. They can also be a part of the investigation teams to evaluate the behavior of police officers and other law enforcement personnel. They may be part of a team that develops behavioral profiles as part of criminal investigation. They can be part of a hostage negation team.
Many forensic psychologists have clinical or counseling psychology backgrounds. They often provide crisis counseling to witnesses or victims who experience traumatic criminal acts. They may help victims of post traumatic stress disorder. They may work with people who try to commit suicide.
Many forensic psychologists are employed in prisons or correctional facilities. They may provide valuable diagnostic services to screen for serious functional mental disorder among inmates. The may help evaluate inmates applying for parole or inmates in probation situations. They can provide direct clinical services such as psychotherapy, behavioral therapy, or leading group therapy in the prison.
Working with Lawyers.
Nowadays, most expert witnesses are called by individual attorneys or prosecutors to provide expert testimony relevant to their cases. Many forensic psychologists are in private practice and serve legal clients, rather than being employed by the court. Many work with lawyers in civil cases. The testimony of forensic psychologists is often vital in cases involving family law, divorce or child custody.
Many professional forensic psychologists have academic positions in universities, or work on research in hospitals, interdisciplinary research institutions or think tanks. They can be professors. They also do research on problems of criminal detection, the justice system, issues related to psychology and the law, or human factors in the judicial process.
Two famous examples are Saul Kassin, and Elizabeth Loftus. Kassin’s research on false confession has been very influential in the way confessions are obtained and the weight given to confession at trial. Loftus’ research on the accuracy of eye-witness memory has had major impact on the way trials are conducted.
Qualifications of a Forensic Psychologist.
The forensic psychologist has to have the credibility to serve as an expert witness. Training and supervised experience provide the backbone of that credibility. All psychologists need at least a Master’s degree but most obtain the Ph.D.. In addition, most forensic psychologists obtain advanced forensic-specific clinical experience. The additional training usually involves clinical work in a law enforcement setting or a forensic laboratory. Forensic psychologists must be state licensed clinical psychologists.
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