• What is Forensic Psychology?
  • What is Forensic Psychology?
  • What is Forensic Psychology?
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What is Forensic Psychology?

psychology in the criminal law

It might be easier to define forensic psychology by starting out with what it is not. It is not forensic science. Forensic science is what is seen on television when detectives tweeze hairs out of a blood stain or lift fingerprints off a glass. It is not a Vulcan mind meld that allows the psychologist to peer into the depths of the human brain by analyzing behavior – although behavior certainly comes into it. Most of all, it is not the means by which long-buried secrets can be unearthed, but its results can be exciting. Education Requirements Although some colleges are now offering forensic psychology as a dual major, featuring psychology and law, the usual path is to gain an advanced degree in psychology, usually a PhD or PsyD. From that point, it is simply a matter of adding on legal training for the forensic part of forensic psychology. However, it should be noted, that some psychologists might participate in FP activities as part of their psychology position. For example, a school counselor might assist with determining which parent in a family is more suited to taking… Read More

Confessions, Forensic Psychology, and DNA Evidence

criminal confession

One of the tasks of a forensic psychologist is to interview an alleged perpetrator who has given a confession with an eye toward judging whether the person understands the gravity of having confessed and whether he or she understands what it is that has been confessed. It has been discovered that confessions are not always the last word in accuracy and that they can be extracted in a variety of ways. Once there is a confession, efforts to locate new or contradictory evidence concerning a case might be diminished or completely cease. A Famous Example For example, Juan Rivera confessed to the rape and murder of an 11-year-old girl in Lake County, Illinois. However, the DNA evidence taken from the girl didn’t match Rivera’s. The prosecution theorized that she had had consensual sex with someone else and that Rivera had killed her in a fit of rage when he was unable to perform. Rivera was convicted. Fortunately, the story has a somewhat better ending than might be expected. Two weeks later the appellate court threw out the confession, and Rivera was not only exonerated, he was awarded… Read More

Forensic Psychologists Examine Why Criminals Post Crimes on Social Media

social media used to post evidence of criminal activity

For those of us who live quiet, law-abiding lives, it seems difficult to imagine why anyone would incriminate themselves by posting videos of a crime in progress, or activity leading up to a crime. Yet an article in the Guardian reports that crime connected with social media have risen 780% over the last four years. The posts ranged from grooming, stalking, and preparatory statements to “selfies” of violent crimes in progress. Police are challenged with having to walk a fine line between allowing freedom of speech and getting ahead of real threats. Forensic Psychologist Look for Causes Forensic psychologists are examining this phenomenon and have come to one conclusion: the people who are posting videos of violent crimes against humans, and those who post videos of cruel behavior toward animals, are seeking attention. They want to be noticed for their actions. It isn’t new behavior. Jack the Ripper, for example, sent letters about his crimes all over London. The investigative tools now available were in their infancy, so despite publicity, he wasn’t caught. Why Study the Behavior How Stuff Works has an entry that delves into the… Read More

What Constitutes a Criminal Assault?

throwing a snowball could technically be deemed assault under the right circumstances

Forensic psychologists are often called upon to provide an expert opinion in assault cases. They may be required to assess the overall state of a person facing assault charges or the assault victim. It is therefore important to first understand what constitutes a criminal assault charge before a psychological assessment is done. For most people, the term criminal assault often brings up violent images of fights, brawls, and battery. However, assault and battery are two different legal concepts with distinct elements. An assault can be broadly defined as an attempt or threat to cause bodily injury to another person. The threat or attempt must be coupled with an ability to cause the harm. Battery, on the other hand, is a form of aggravated assault that results in actual bodily harm to another person. Assault and battery are torts and crimes, and as such may result in criminal or civil liability. Elements of an Assault An assault charge must consist of an act intended to cause offensive bodily contact with the victim or cause apprehension of such contact to the victim. Such circumstances may include actual threats or… Read More

Can You Use Kleptomania as a Defense For Shoplifting?

shoplifting and kleptomania as a defense in a criminal case

Can a person who is caught shoplifting claim temporary insanity by virtue of being kleptomaniac? Is kleptomania a good defense? Kleptomania is a medically recognized psychological disorder. It is an impulse control disorder that ultimately results in those afflicted having the uncontrollable urge to steal other people’s property. The kleptomaniac, unlike the routine shoplifter, does not typically steal for personal gain. This therefore begs the question, if people accused of more serious crimes committed due to a mental disorder can get away with an insanity plea, why can’t a shoplifter use kleptomania as defense? Why not send the accused to a mental health aid program rather than face the consequences of the law if the act was performed under uncontrollable circumstances? Well, it all depends on the law or the state of jurisdiction. In states that follow the M’Nagthen rule, proving kleptomania is no defense. Under the rule, insanity can only be proved by showing that you had a mental defect that prevented you from knowing the exact nature and consequences of your actions. A kleptomaniac is fully aware of what he or she is doing while… Read More

Can Addiction Be Used as Legal Defense for Drug Possession Charges?

prescription pills - drug possession is a crime

Recent medical and psychological studies have shown that there are neurophysiological mechanisms associated with drug addiction. The revelations have created a debate among legal theorists about whether or not addiction diminishes responsibility. While some agree with the theory, others claim that the studies do not involve coercion, compulsion, or irrationality that would excuse an addict from punishment for crimes committed under influence of drugs. The general argument is that in as much as addiction is a disease, addicts are responsible for their condition and failing to take the necessary measures to manage their addiction is not an excuse to commit crimes. So how does the law view addiction and drug possession? If an addict is accused of drug possession, can the fact that he or she is addicted to drugs have any bearing on the case? Can a forensic psychologist recommend drug rehabilitation or another substance abuse treatment program as an alternative to prison? Voluntary Intoxication and Addiction is Not a Legal Defense Drug addiction or voluntary intoxication is not a legal defense but can be considered as a reason to reach a favorable resolution. However, this… Read More

Application of Forensic Psychology to the Criminal Justice System

forensic psychology brain image

Forensic psychology has over the years played a key role in the legal field of criminal justice. To fully appreciate how this field of psychology affects criminal justice, it is important to first understand what it is and how it is applied in court cases. Definition of Forensic Psychology Forensic psychology is a unique combination of medical psychology and criminal justice. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines forensic psychology as the use of clinical specialties in the legal system. A forensic psychologist applies psychological principles, data, research, and theory to provide an explanation for criminal acts and behavior. The practice helps to determine whether an accused person should be convicted or pardoned for his or her actions. Chapter 490 of Florida statutes, aptly titled Psychological Services, provides a basis for the application of forensic psychology in the criminal justice system in an increasingly complex society where emotional survival plays a key role in human behavior. How is it Different From Clinical Evaluation? Forensic psychology and clinical assessment follow the same the same procedures of evaluation but differ in the way each field is practiced. A person who… Read More

How “Expert” is Expert Testimony?

The Eye-Opener The legal system as we know it, places considerable emphasis on expert testimony. On a reasonable scale, there is no expectation that such testimony would be accurate at all times and in all instances. However, digging deep into how “expert” an expert testimony is, brings up an unexciting, and frankly, appalling state of affairs of this critical legal appendage. Fault Lines in Psychology in Court Cases Interestingly, the initial steps to uncover the careless “inexpertness” of what many consider, and often passes, as expert testimony in the courts were made more than a century ago by no other than a man the legend Sigmund Freud described as the “master of psychological thinking”— Fyodor Dostoevsky. The specific case Dostoevsky observed to make his conclusions was that of his brother, Dmitri Karamazov. Dmitri was alleged to have murdered his father, and three medical experts were called upon to testify/give their opinions on two points—the sanity of Dimitri, and if he had committed the murder. The table below gives an overview of the findings from the three experts. Expert Sane/Insane Guilty/Not Guilty A Insane Guilty B Insane C… Read More

Cultural Influence On Crime

Japan collectivistic

One can take many different stances when asked to determine the causes of criminal activity. One area of research that has been gaining popularity views crime as a product of the culture or subculture to which one belongs, rather than strictly blaming it on individual differences. In other words, enculturation plays an important role in the development of criminal behavior; this argument is supported by recent research that will be further discussed, and the disparity in rates of crime between different cultures and subcultures. The purpose of this post is to examine any relevant statistics regarding the differences in violent and nonviolent criminal activity within and between cultures, and to discuss the various theories that have been proposed to explain the reason for imbalance in rates of crime around the world. Variations between the type of crime committed, as well as how it is committed will also be noted as it relates to the topic. Beginning with an analysis of a particular subculture within the United States, which will then lead to cross-national comparisons, the goal of this article is to illustrate how crime is a complicated… Read More

Rational Choice as a Theory of Crime

rational choice theory of crime | criminal lawyer Kenneth Padowitz

Rational choice is a prominent theoretical model in many fields of research, though many criminologists continue to doubt its applicability as a general theory of crime. Much of this skepticism can be attributed to the over-simplification of the model, and the methodologies utilized when testing it in research. Rational choice theory is conceptually broader than many researchers believe it to be, and those who explore it often leave out important variables in their testing. Numerous studies have been conducted, the findings of which have legitimized rational choice as a general theory of crime. The ability to apply rational choice theory not only to instrumental criminal acts, but also to those crimes in which there is no apparent monetary motive, has been supported through research. The goal of this article is to thoroughly explain Gary Becker’s original model of rational choice theory and to take a closer look at how it is currently utilized today in criminological research. In addition to highlighting the positive aspects of the model, its shortcomings will also be explained. Criminology is the scientific study of crime and its origins. Criminologists seek to answer… Read More

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