Application of Forensic Psychology to the Criminal Justice System

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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.forensic psychology brain image

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 goes for a clinical assessment does so on his or her own will and has control over choice of diagnosis and treatment. In a forensic evaluation, the client is often ordered by the court or advised by his or her attorney to undergo the assessment procedure. Unlike therapeutic psychological evaluation, forensic assessment is often done in an adversarial environment between the client and the psychologist.

When is a Forensic Assessment Required?

A forensic assessment is required when there is a complex legal question such as insanity or mental competency that can only be answered by a professional psychologist. In this case the psychologist is hired to determine the accused person’s mental and psychological status. The psychologist will conduct clinical interviews with the defendant as well as collateral interviews with family, friends, witnesses, police officers, attorneys, and other relevant parties to the case. He or she will also review the defendant’s school, medical, and criminal records, run psychological tests, and eventually provide a professional opinion that will help to answer the legal question at hand. Basically, the forensic psychologist will help to determine the mental and psychological status of an accused person during the commission or omission of the act.

An attorney can also recommend forensic evaluation when he or she believes that the assessment will be beneficial to their case. A judge can also order a defendant to undergo a psychological evaluation before a verdict is passed.

Where is it Used?

Forensic psychology principles are used in a wide range of evaluation tasks including child custody evaluations, competency evaluation of defendants in criminal cases, threat evaluations for schools, counseling victims of crime, and death notification processes. The practice is also used in screening and recruitment of law enforcement officers, post-traumatic stress disorder evaluation, and in the assessment of treatment programs for adult and juvenile offenders. It is used in court rooms, schools and in the fields of counseling and social work.


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