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What does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

Forensic Psychology

This can vary, but generally, the job of a forensic psychologist is to better inform the legal system or a legal process with their expert knowledge of psychology, human behavior, and/or the mind. The court, a business, a lawyer, a government agency, or some other interested party will request that a forensic psychologist perform a psychological evaluation or consultation in order to answer a specific legal question or offer guidance for some legal issue. These legal questions are often broken down into two categories: civil and criminal. Below are examples of these (Note: the nature of these evaluations will depend on jurisdiction and may vary depending on specifics of the case):

  1. Criminal

  2. Is the defendant competent or fit to move forward with their legal case (such as going to trial or accepting a plea bargain)?

  3. Is the defendant competent to go pro se (represent him or her self as their own attorney)?

  4. Was the defendant insane and not criminally responsible for their actions at the time of the alleged offense?

  5. Did the defendant have the culpable mental state (or diminished capacity) for the alleged offense as charged?

  6. Is the defendant restorable to competence to stand trial?

  7. Is the defendant dangerous such that they should be (or remain) committed to a hospital or other institution?

  8. Did the defendant have the capacity to waive their Miranda rights at the time they waived them (and confessed)?

  9. Is the individual competent to be executed?

  10. What mitigating circumstances should/can be considered when making sentencing determinations?

  11. Civil

  12. Should an individual’s parental rights be terminated?

  13. Following divorce, what custodial arrangement is in the best interest of the child?

  14. Is an individual psychologically fit to work?

  15. Is an individual competent to sign a contract/will/legal document?

  16. Did the negligence of a professional with legal duty (such as a doctor) directly cause psychological harm to another?

  17. Is an individual disabled to the point of lacking capacities necessary to work and now requires disability benefits/compensation?

  18. Did a person incur a psychological personal injury?

What will these decisions be based on? The psychologist’s clinical interview, behavioral observations, psychological test results, record review, consultation, collateral contacts, the law/case law, and the scientific literature relevant to the question. The opinions and support for the opinions are typically provided in a report. The psychologist may be called as an expert witness to testify in court or at a deposition in order to explain the results of the evaluation.

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