Learning Goal: I’m working on a psychology question and need guidance to help me learn.
second assignment :
The main purpose of this chapter is to introduce the structure and process in criminal and civil courts along with some of the specific tasks performed by forensic psychologists in those settings. We review court structure, discuss basic concepts relating to criminal and civil cases, and provide illustrations of the work psychologists do at each of the major stages of the court process. Some psychologists are actively involved in trial or litigation consultation. In this capacity, they assist lawyers in tasks as varied as preparing witnesses for trial, identifying effective tactics for cross-examination, or helping to select jurors who are most likely to be sympathetic to the lawyer’s side.A major undertaking for forensic psychologists is to conduct risk assessments–more specifically violence risk assessments–which are then communicated to representatives of the legal system. Although these assessments are loosely called predictions of dangerousness, most psychologists emphasize that they cannot truly predict human behavior. They can, however, offer probabilities that certain behavior will occur.Methods to assess risk have developed rapidly over the past 30 years. Whereas the use of unstructured clinical judgment was common in the past, this was replaced by the development of risk assessment instruments that were actuarial or statistically based. Actuarial instruments identify risk factors (e.g., age at onset of antisocial behavior) that clinicians take into account in deciding on the probability that a given individual will engage in violent behavior in the future.Actuarial assessments were almost universally viewed in the research literature as superior to unstructured clinical judgment, but they had shortcomings, as noted in the chapter. Many psychologists sought a combination of the best aspects of both actuarial and clinical assessments of risk, while avoiding the weaknesses of both.Over the past decade, instruments based on structured professional judgment were developed. These instruments provide guidelines to the clinician to incorporate risk factors while also allowing for his or her professional judgment of the individual being assessed in light of the particular circumstances of the case.Today, forensic psychologists have a range of risk assessment instruments to choose from. Forensic psychologists often serve as expert witnesses in both criminal and civil courts, not necessarily at trial but more commonly at a variety of pretrial and posttrial proceedings (e.g., a bail hearing, a sanity hearing, a sentencing hearing).It is now clear that all experts–from the physical, behavioral, and social sciences; medicine; law; and business–fall under the mantle of science identified in the Daubert case, at least in federal courts. Courts in most states also have adopted Daubert or similar standards as well. Since Daubert, many judges are scrutinizing and rejecting expert testimony more than before, although some are more likely to focus on whether the evidence will assist the trier of fact and whether it has general acceptance in the scientific community. The present chapter also covers issues that cause some psychologists to pause before agreeing to participate in court proceedings. Some psychologists are not comfortable divulging information that in other contexts would be confidential, even though they are allowed (and sometimes required) to do so by law. Related to this is the duty to warn or to protect persons who might be harmed by a psychologist’s client. However, when psychologists are asked to conduct an evaluation, the client is often not the individual being evaluated but the court. In that case, copies of the psychologist’s report are sent to court as well as to attorneys on both sides of the case.The patient–therapist relationship is different from the relationship between the examiner and the person being evaluated. Courts have respected patient–therapist confidentiality, but even that may give way in certain situations when balanced against other interests. In many jurisdictions, for example, therapists have a duty to warn or protect when their clients have made serious physical threats against an identified third party. In some cases, general threats against unspecified others must be reported as well.Some forensic psychologists also resist being pressed for an opinion on legal matters or being subjected to grueling cross-examination by an opposing lawyer. Yet each of these is a routine occurrence in courtroom appearances. Judges often want to know the psychologist’s conclusion as to whether an individual is competent to stand trial, whether someone is insane, or who would be the better of two parents in a custody battle. Technically, these are legal issues–the “ultimate issues” to be decided by the court, not the psychologist. Although some forensic psychologists are willing to express these opinions, others find them out of their purview. Nevertheless, the trend today appears to be to offer such an opinion if requested, as long as one is ready to carefully explain the facts on which that opinion is based.
This chapter reviews a wide variety of tasks performed by forensic psychologists in their interaction with criminal courts. The available research suggests that the dominant tasks revolve around the various competencies that criminal defendants must possess to participate in criminal proceedings. There appears to be no consensus about how competency evaluations should be conducted, although most guidelines and publications indicate that the traditional clinical interview by itself does not suffice. Although some psychologists administer traditional psychological tests, instruments specifically designed to measure competency are now widely available. Among the most promising are the MacCAT-CA, developed by researchers from the MacArthur Foundation, and the ECST-R, which was designed to assess malingering as well as competency.The results of the competency evaluation appear to have a significant effect on a judge’s decision, with judges almost always agreeing with recommendations offered by the examiner. Psychologists also conduct sanity evaluations, more formally known as assessments of criminal responsibility or mental state at the time of the offense. These evaluations are far more complex than most evaluations of adjudicative competence–but there are exceptions. The assessment of criminal responsibility requires the collection of a large amount of background data, interviews with the defendant, and contacts with other individuals who may be able to provide insight into the defendant’s state of mind when the crime was committed.The Rogers Criminal Responsibility Scale (R-CRAS) and the Mental State at the Time of the Offense Screening Evaluation (MSE) are the dominant instruments available for this purpose, though research suggests they are less likely to be used than are competency assessment instruments.The decision as to whether a defendant was sane at the time of the offense–and therefore can be held responsible–may be made by a judge or a jury, applying a variety of rules adopted by states and under federal law. Over the last quarter century, both states and the federal government have made it increasingly difficult for defendants to mount a successful insanity defense, such as by narrowing the rules or placing the burden on the defendant to prove his or her insanity by clear and convincing evidence.A controversial topic relating to both competency and insanity is the administration of psychoactive medication against an individual’s will. Medicated defendants may suffer a variety of side effects, some of which may interfere with their capacity to participate in the trial process. The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that extreme care must be taken before medicating defendants against their will to restore them to competency. The Court has ruled, though, that defendants have a right not to be medicated during their trials if they are pleading not guilty by reason of insanity and want jurors to see them in their natural, nonmedicated state.Psychologists also consult with criminal courts as judges are preparing to sentence an offender. These sentencing evaluations are conducted primarily to determine whether the offender would be a good candidate for a particular rehabilitative approach, such as substance abuse treatment or a violent offender program.Sentencing evaluations also may involve assessments of risk, however, because courts are often interested in an appraisal of the convicted offender’s dangerousness. Risk assessment remains an imperfect enterprise, but a variety of valid instruments are available for this purpose.The chapter ends with a discussion of sexually violent predators and their indeterminate commitment to civil mental institutions. Approximately 20 states and the federal government now allow such a commitment, provided that the offender is dangerous and has a mental disorder or some mental abnormality–a very broad term that has been criticized by many scholars. Although statutes often indicate that treatment will be provided, it is widely suspected that the primary intention of these statutes is to keep sexual predators incapacitated.
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