What is Forensic Psychology?
The word 'forensic' is derived from the Latin word 'forum' which was the place of public gathering in the Roman cities where the process of justice was carried out through debates. Today the term forensic is used to define the use of scientific methods and procedures to investigate crime. Forensic psychology is therefore defined as 'the application of clinical specialties to legal institutions and people who come in contact with law.
It consists of understanding criminal law, making legal evaluations, and interacting with judges, attorneys, and such other legal professionals. It also includes the capability to make psychological findings and translate them into the language of the law, so that the information is understood by the legal practitioners. It is also essential that a forensic psychologist understand the philosophy of the law and legal processes.
The questions that are normally asked to a forensic psychologist are legal questions where the forensic psychologist must be able to convert psychological data into legal language for the court.
A forensic psychologist therefore must have relevant training in psychology, including clinical or counseling psychology. He must gain relevant experience in forensic psychology by working with other practitioners.
Therefore, a forensic psychologist is very different from a typical clinical psychologist. A forensic psychologist does not see the situation from the client's perspective; neither does he empathize with the client. During the evaluation process, it is important for the forensic psychologist to examine the consistency of factual data across several sources.
Functions of a Forensic Psychologist
There are several functions of a forensic psychologist. The primary function is to provide testimony in court. This has grown to become quite a daunting task because attorneys have now become quite competent at undermining the testimony of these psychologists in the court of law.
Apart from this they also perform various other functions. They are:
The psychologist is usually appointed by the court of law to assess the competency of the individual to a stand trial. If the assessment states that the individual is incompetent to stand the trial, it will also state recommendations for the procedures to be followed in order to render him competent for the trial. The forensic psychologist may also prescribe medication for the treatment of the individual. If these medications and treatments do not show the required effect, then the psychologist may then advise the court to commit the individual to a psychiatric facility till he can be declared competent to stand the trial.
Evaluation of Sanity
The forensic psychologist is appointed by the court to assess the individual's state of mind at the time of the crime. This happens when the lawyer pleads that his client is 'not guilty' stating the reason of insanity.
Often the individual may also fake symptoms of mental illness during competency evaluations. This will often be revealed by the forensic psychologist by observing the individual in other settings, because it is difficult to consistently maintain false symptoms over a period of time. Such offenses can also add more time to the sentence of the individual, when found guilty.
Mitigation of Sentence
An evaluation by a forensic psychologist is very important when considering the mitigation of the sentence for the individual. When the individual's mental disorder does not meet the criteria for being 'not guilty' by giving reasons of insanity plea, other considerations are taken into account. These include the individual's state of mind at the time of the crime, relevant history of mental disorder and psychological abuse, medical history, family and social history including physical abuse, mental abuse, domestic violence, and exposure to traumatic events, and criminal violence. The psychologist considers all these factors before making a recommendation to the court about mitigating the sentence of the individual.
A psychologist is also referred while making other evaluations in the legal processes. One such evaluation is to about assessing whether the individual will commit the same crime again, or whether he is still to be considered to be a danger to society. They are also consulted during probation hearings and parole hearings. They also provide assessment of the individual's capacity to be rehabilitated after their release from jail. They provide information about the credibility of witnesses, help select the jury during the process of a trial, and also provide profiles of criminals to law enforcement authorities.
Thus a forensic psychologist performs a very important function in today's world, especially at the junction of law and psychology.