(See separate section for immigration evaluations.)
Forensic psychology lies at the intersection between psychology and the law. There are many instances in which psychologists are called upon to offer expert opinions to the court on psychological matters, involving juveniles or adults. For example, there may be concerns as to whether an individual who is being tried in court has a rational appreciation of the nature and object of the proceedings or whether he or she can effectively assist counsel with the defense. Psychologists conduct extensive interviews in these circumstances to determine the answers and inform the court of their findings.
When a juvenile is charged with a crime as an adult, the defense attorney may seek out a forensic psychologist to perform a waiver evaluation. Waiver evaluations assist in determining whether the juvenile should be tried as an adult, or if the case should be heard in juvenile court.
In adult cases, forensic psychologists also conduct criminal responsibility evaluations. In Maryland, “a defendant is not criminally responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of that conduct, the defendant, because of a mental disorder or mental retardation, lacks substantial capacity to: (1) appreciate the criminality of the conduct; or (2) conform that conduct to the requirements of the law.” Assessing a defendant to determine whether he meets this standard can involve review of police records, the defendant’s past local and federal arrest and conviction record, video recordings of confessions, video recordings of the offense, current and past psychiatric records, telephone interviews with witnesses and victims in the offense, and, of course, lengthy and detailed interviews with the defendant.
Forensic psychologists are sometimes called upon to consult with attorneys on psychological test results that are obtained from other expert witnesses. In doing so, the consulting psychologist will educate the attorney about the findings and offer guidance regarding potential lines of questioning for the expert about his or her process and conclusions. It is important to note that a forensic psychologist is prohibited from serving a dual role as a consultant and an expert witness in the same case.