What is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is the intersection between psychology and
the criminal justice system. It involves understanding criminal law in the
relevant jurisdictions to 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, and provide information to legal personnel in
a way that can be understood. Further, to be a credible witness, for example,
in the United States, the forensic psychologist must understand the American
judicial system's philosophy, rules, and standards. Primary is an understanding
of the adversarial system. There are also rules about hearsay evidence and,
most importantly, the exclusionary rule. A lack of a firm grasp of these
procedures will result in the forensic psychologist losing credibility in the
courtroom.[ A 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.
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 a language the court understands. For example, the court frequently appoints a forensic psychologist to assess a defendant's competency to stand trial. The court also frequently appoints a forensic psychologist to assess the defendant's state of mind 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.
Forensic psychologists 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 personnel, providing law enforcement with criminal profiles, and in other ways working with police departments. Forensic psychologists work with the Public Defender, the States Attorney, and private attorneys. Forensic psychologists may also help with jury selection.