Psychology plays a significant role in the legal system. While criminal psychologists focus on examining criminal behavior, forensic psychologists focus on clinical evaluations of those involved with the legal system.
Forensic psychologists may work as interventionists, expert witnesses or competency evaluators when working with people accused of a crime.
What are interventionists?
When psychologists work as interventionists, they aim to create an intervention plan to treat a person accused of a crime to reduce a sentence or prevent recidivism. For example, for adults and juveniles charged with drug-related crimes, a forensic psychologist may help them with a compulsory treatment program for substance abuse.
What do expert witnesses accomplish?
Expert witnesses are people who have specialized knowledge that can testify during a criminal trial. For example, if a defendant has a mental health condition or if his or her motivations have a mental health explanation, the psychologist can help explain those motivations and that disorder to a jury. Forensic psychologists can produce formal reports to the legal system.
What is a competency evaluation?
A competency evaluation occurs when the question of criminal responsibility comes up. There are cases where a mental disorder can result in a person being unable to stand trial because he or she cannot understand the process or cannot understand that he or she committed a criminal act. Forensic psychologists evaluate the defendant and create a report that discusses whether the person should stand trial. The forensic report may include medical, family, childhood, educational and mental health history.
Forensic psychologists can aid a defense where someone accused of a crime suffers from a mental health condition.