‘Legal Terms’

Forensics, Confidentiality & The Law

Confidentiality and the Law “Protecting my sources” has long been a vital part of news reporting. Confidentiality is often also claimed by physicians, counselors, and the clergy. How far that can go and whether or not information can be requested for a legal proceeding of has long been a hotly contested arena for debate. There are, however, some commonsense solutions to whether or not confidential information should be admissible in a court of law or revealed for any purpose. Develop proof through other means. This is where forensic investigation shines. It can produce evidence that relies on the physical items at the scene of a crime, rather than on witnesses. While not completely infallible because the information is open to interpretation, it is a far more reliable resource that many other options. Create a clear legal covenant between the recipient of the information and the informant, laying out the circumstances under which information must be revealed to authorities. A well-known example of this is that teachers and counselors are mandated to report suspected child abuse. Clients who visit a counselor should be advised that if their interaction… Read More

What Constitutes a Criminal Assault?

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

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

The Insanity Defense

Legally Insane: The Insanity Defense The insanity defense is one of the least successful defenses in a criminal defense case. The determination of the suspect’s mental state at the time of the criminal offense, as well as at the time of trial can be a challenging task; the defense actually has the burden of proof in Federal cases, as well as most State charges, in showing the defendant to be insane. It is important to note that insanity is actually a legal term, not a psychological one. There are times when the suspect may be psychotic but still don’t fit the legal criteria of insane. The legal definition of insanity also varies, depending on which jurisdiction the charge originates. Legal tradition in the United States holds that if an individual is not aware of what they are doing or unaware of the meaning of their behavior, they should not be held criminally responsible. Mens rea is vital to charge and convict someone of a crime. According to the opinion in Durham v. United States, determining if someone is guilty and then punishing should only occur if the… Read More

Jury Selection | Importance of Experiential Questioning

Jury Selection It can be argued that the selection of a good jury is more important than any facts of the case. I happen to believe that the facts of the case are equally important to a good jury selection. Many fellow criminal attorneys have claimed that no amount of evidence against their client would matter, as long as their jury selection is perfect;  they believe they will come out on top over the long run, regardless of the circumstances in the case. Although this may very well be true, many lawyers unknowingly lack in their abilities to effectively pick a decent jury. The usual approach to jury selection, voire dire, focuses on asking jurors questions which fall into two categories: affiliative, and attitudinal questions. These questions are thought to show any conscious or unconscious preferences a prospective juror may have towards the prosecution or defense. What are Affiliative and Attitudinal Questions? Affiliative questions are focused on any groups that a prospective juror identifies with. These questions are supposed to provide the attorney with clues as to where the prospective juror stands on various social issues. Alone, affiliative… Read More

Conflict Between Two Disciplines : Psychology and Law

Conflict Between Two Disciplines Psychology And Law Out of the need to resolve disagreements, laws are created and implemented by people. For the most part, laws can be seen as a reflection of the values of the majority in a society. Laws are created, changed, or thrown away because as time passes, the values of a society also change. What is acceptable today may be unacceptable in the future; as values change, so do the laws governing the people. For example, spousal rape, which is when a married man forces his wife to have sex even if she did not want to, was largely ignored by society. Time passed, values changed, and as of today every state in the U.S. has implemented laws protecting women from this behavior. You could probe the minds of an attorney, a law enforcement officer, a psychologist, and a judge, about how they know something is true or valid, and what would be needed to come to that conclusion, and they would all give different answers; neither are necessarily incorrect, but chances are based on their own perspective, they will all give you… Read More