There are many different specialties in Forensic Psychology. 

One aspect they all the forensic specialties have in common is that they work in conjuction with, or are commissioned by, the court system.  As such, different skills are required, but also different confidentiality rules and ethic requirements apply than in conventional psychotherapy.

The following are just a few examples of the diversity of Forensic Psychology, it is by no means a complete list.

For Criminal Law, attorneys often seek counsel from a forensic psychologist to either gain a better understanding of their client, or to try and collect data that supports a certain direction they are trying to pursue in their case.  Put in this role, the psychologist has be be very careful to remain neutral,  and to conduct all assessments according to the latest peer reviewed and accepted practices.

Often what an attorney is looking for is  a "Sentence mitigation" or a "Sanity Evaluation"
 
     Sentence mitigation: Even in situations where the defendant's mental disorder does not meet the criteria for a not guilty by reason of insanity defense, the defendant's state of mind at the time, as well as relevant past history of mental disorder and psychological abuse can be used to attempt a mitigation of sentence. The forensic psychologist's evaluation and report is an important element in presenting evidence for sentence mitigation. In Hamblin v. Mitchell, 335 F.3d 482 (6th Cir. 2003), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the decision of a lower court because counsel did not thoroughly investigate the defendant's mental history in preparation for the sentencing phase of the trial. Specifically, the court stated that such investigation should include members of the defendant's immediate and extended family, medical history, and family and social history (including physical and mental abuse, domestic violence, exposure to traumatic events and criminal violence). This issue was further addressed in Wiggins v. Smith and Bigby v. Dretke.

     Sanity evaluations:The forensic psychologist may also be appointed by the court to evaluate the defendant's state of mind at the time of the offense. These are defendants who the judge, prosecutor or public defender believe, through personal interaction with the defendant or through reading the police report, may have been significantly impaired at the time of the offense. In other situations, the defense attorney may decide to have the defendant plead not guilty by reason of insanity. In this case, usually the court appoints forensic evaluators and the defense may hire their own forensic expert. In actual practice, this is rarely a plea in a trial. Usually any judgments about the defendant's state of mind at the time of the offense are made by the court before the trial process begins.

Other types of Forensic Psychology deal with Family Law, Labor Law, The Welfare and Institutions Code, or work closely together with the Medical community. One aspect all these specialties have in common is that they rely heavily on Forensic Assessments, in conjuction with skilled diagnostic interviews, and often significant knowlege of the legal codes in their particular field of expertise.

 

Forensic Assessments:

 
       It is vitally important for any attorney to carefully chose the forensic expert they retain, either for expert testimony, or to perform psychological assessments. Any of the following items can be easy to overlook in light of the pressures and schedules of court work, the complexity that often emerges in the adversarial nature of litigation, and the difficulty of finding an expert who never makes a mistake.
 
      But overlooking any of them can lead to invalid assessments, misleading testimony, and a variety of other serious problems.
Different experts will have their own ways of working with attorneys, selecting standardized tests and other assessment approaches, identifying factors that undermine validity, maintaining documentation, and so on. What is important is that each area represented by the items below be carefully addressed. Regardless of which psychologist you ultimately chose for your case, make sure that they adhere to all the important Ethical guidelines.
 
(The above was adapted from Wikipedia, found under the heading of "Forensic Psychology")
 
 
 
      The following list (copyright held by the American Psychological Association) was created as a resource for those who conduct forensic assessments. Any attorney (or private party) who retains the services of a forensice psychologist, may benefit from the following checklist to make ensure a good match between the clinician and the case at hand. The Psychologist should be able to affirmatively answer each of the following points, or have a satisfactory alternative answer.
 
  • I've reached an explicit written agreement with the attorney or the court on the specific purpose and scope of the testing.
  • I have the relevant education, training, and experience to conduct a psychological assessment involving these issues.
  • I'm familiar with the current research studies and other relevant literature that address these issues.
  • There are no conflicts of interest or other factors that would undermine the fairness and validity of this assessment.
  • The tests and other psychological instruments or approaches selected for this assessment have shown adequate validity and reliability for these issues.
  • The tests and other psychological instruments or approaches selected for this assessment are appropriate for a person from this population and with these demographic characteristics.
  • I have the relevant education, training, and experience to conduct a psychological assessment using these tests, instruments, or approaches.
  • I have an up-to-date knowledge of the research concerning these tests, instruments, or approaches, including awareness of reliability and validity data and the demonstrated ability to identify efforts to "fake good" or to malinger.
  • I've reached an explicit written agreement with the attorney or court on deadlines.
  • I've reached an explicit written agreement with the attorney or court on fees (see Appendix A for sample agreement).
  • I've reached an explicit written agreement with the attorney or court on the nature and form in which the assessment will be reported (i.e., written report, deposition, trial testimony), including how, if at all, feedback on the assessment will be provided to the client.
  • I've reached an explicit agreement with the attorney or court on any relevant issues of privilege, confidentiality, and privacy, including any potential mandated reports or disclosures.
  • I've reached an explicit written agreement with the attorney or court on who (e.g., the expert witness, the attorney, the client, or someone else) will be responsible for obtaining additional documents or information (e.g., reports of previous assessments, assessment reports prepared by other expert witnesses in the case).
  • I've informed the client about the assessment and obtained appropriate informed consent (see Appendix B for a sample form).
  • I've determined whether there are any issues regarding vision, hearing, mobility, etc., that need to be addressed in the assessment and/or report.
  • I've determined whether there are any language (e.g., familiarity with English, reading difficulty) or cultural issues that need to be addressed in the assessment and/or report.
  • I've determined whether there are any acute or chronic physical illnesses, medications, disorders, or disabilities that need to be addressed in the assessment and/or report.
  • I've determined whether there are any other factors that may affect the validity of the assessment or that may require special attention.
  • I've ensured an adequately monitored environment for the assessment (e.g., the client had a quiet room -- free from conversation with and distraction by other people -- in which to complete the assessment; client did not take an instrument like the MMPI-2 home or elsewhere to fill out).
  • If the assessment included any instruments that needed to be scored, I've checked for any scoring inaccuracies.
  • If I've used a computerized interpretive report, I've evaluated each hypothesis set forth to determine whether there is evidence that it is basically accurate, basically inaccurate, or nonapplicable (completely inaccurate).
  • In any oral or written report, including deposition or courtroom testimony, I've explicitly noted any factors that may have influenced the validity of this assessment.
  • Throughout this assessment, I've tried to set aside preconceptions and avoid premature cognitive commitment, looking carefully for data that don't fit my emerging hypotheses and for alternative explanations for the data.
  • I've reviewed the legislation and case law in the relevant jurisdiction, APA's "Record Keeping Guidelines" (please follow this link for the Record Keeping Guidelines and other practice guidelines), and other relevant documents to ensure that I maintain adequate documentation of this assessment as long as required, and that I provide adequate security for the documentation.

This checklist was adapted from the chapter "The Expert Witness Prepares & Presents" and the appendix "Expert Witness's Checklist" in The MMPI, MMPI-2, & MMPI-A in Court: A Practical Guide for Expert Witnesses & Attorneys, 2nd Edition, by Ken Pope, Jim Butcher, & Joyce Seelen, published by the American Psychological Association.

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