Final Project- Forensic Psychology

Final Project- Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology is one of the newest sub-specialties in psychology that has been recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA). Psychology is the science of mental process and behavior. The term forensic means different scientific techniques and tests that correlate to a discovery of a crime. When combining the two together, forensic psychology can be defined as  the use of psychology in evaluating mental processes and behaviors within the application to several justice systems (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). In order for a professional to evaluate and process based upon evidence, evaluations, and assessments, he or she must have the foundation of knowledge in both the study of psychology and criminal justice or law. There have been several historical benchmarks in the field over the last hundred years. In Introduction to Forensic Psychology,  Bartol and Bartol state a huge benchmark in the field: “In 1921, the State vs. Driver case was the first time an American psychologist testified in a courtroom as an expert witness” (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p.8).

This was such a large turn for the field as psychologists could then become more credible to stand in court in regards to being a material witness; as many times before they were consistently turned down. Another important event that helped shape the field of forensic psychology was in 1918. This marked the first detention center to hire on a full time correctional psychologist to help evaluate and classify inmates (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). Both of these events helped shaped way for the different specialties within the field. Forensic psychologists have been evaluating inmates, assisting law enforcement, and testifying as a material witness since the early 1900’s.

 History and Specialties in Forensic Psychology

From 1922-1972, there marked more important events that changed the field for the future. In this period, a psychologist testifies at a civil trial, first textbook in the forensic emphasis is published and written by a psychologist, first theory on criminal behavior is developed and tested, and the first police psychologist starts helping law enforcement (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).  The largest event that occurred in the timeframe was the American Association for Correctional Psychology (AACP) recognized correctional psychology as a professional career (Heilbrun & Brooks, 2010).

 As the next few decades progress into the new millennium, several more important milestones are achieved. Professional certification for diplomates in forensic psychology was achieved. Shortly after, the APA approved a clinical internship for those interested, however the sub-specialty was still not recognized by the APA. About 10 years later, the American Academy of Forensic Psychology and the American Psychology-Law Society put forth the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists (Bartol & Bartol, 2012) . The APA has their own set of standards and ethics, however since forensic psychologists work in several areas within law enforcement, it was and still is highly important to have a specialty set of ethics as there is much more room for error when working with corrections, criminals, lawyers, law enforcement, etc. After these highly anticipated events in the field, they received their biggest break. In 2001, the APA decided to finally recognize forensic psychology as a subspecialty. This was and still is the most altering event for the field as now it is to be considered credible (Bartol, 1996, para. 2).

The field is consistently evolving with new research, research findings, and better technique with several different subspecialties within the field of forensic psychology. There are six different subspecialties to include: Criminal, Juvenile, Civil, Investigative Correctional, and Police. In these specialties, the forensic psychologists have several different roles and responsibilities. They are consistently involved in seminal court cases that continue to influence the practice of forensic psychology.  The professional can also run into common ethical dilemmas and challenges that encountered in the field. As with any professional success in one’s career, there are controversial issues that he or she may face. There is also continual research being done in each of the subspecialties.

Police Psychology:

The forensic psychologist has a different role in each of the subspecialties. The first subspecialty is police psychology. The forensic psychologist assists law enforcement in several different arenas. The professional assists police departments with the evaluation of aspiring new employees and current, tenured employees. The professional will also help assist law enforcement with the screening procedures of all of their employees to ensure safety. The professional also has the duty to help assist in the training of working with mentally ill citizens they may encounter. The psychologist will also provide officers counseling and counseling for his or her family, this also includes any officers involved in a shooting (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, pg. 9). The professional will also consistently examine police interrogation methods and the analysis of any fake confessions.

 In the assessment area of police psychology, the professional can conduct job analysis, evaluations of applicants, evaluations with specialty units, and emergency situations. In the intervention area, the professional can provide counseling sessions, debriefing & intervention, stress management, and works with any substance abuse.  The duties in the operational side within law enforcement can be threat assessments, crisis & hostage takeover, offender profiling, and research (Kocsis, 2006).

 Within any field, there can arise ethical dilemmas and or challenges that a professional may run into. In police psychology, the forensic psychologist evaluates police officers that were exposed to any hostage, traumatic, or shooting situation. In one ethical situation, the professional will evaluate an officer that was exposed to a horrific crime. Upon an evaluation of the officer, the psychologist determines that the officer is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or otherwise known as PTSD. In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), PTSD is classified and defined as  “A person that has been exposed to a traumatic event in which he or she was involved or threatened death, injury, or integrity, and the person felt intense fear, helplessness, and or horror” (American Psychiatric Association, 2011, p.467). The psychologist diagnosed the officer because he was having several signs of PTSD, with having difficulty falling asleep, outbursts of anger, and the inability to recall an important event of the trauma. The officer also shares with the forensic psychologist that he is having a hard time financially as his wife just passed away. The psychologist felt sympathy for the officer and his three children. The professional decides that the officer is okay to continue working on duty and that he is not a risk to his coworkers or the public.

This situation is an ethical dilemma as the officer should have been put on administrative suspension with pay. The psychologist felt bad for him and his three children that the thought of him not working would put them more into a rough situation. The psychologist put the public at risk because he was diagnosed with a serious disorder with extreme, present onsets of PTSD. This is an extreme example however, this is why the professional must be highly ethical and have proper training in law enforcement and psychology.

 Another example in which the forensic psychologist can be caught in an ethical predicament is during the screening and evaluation of new aspiring officers. For this example, the psychologist is Dr. C. and the aspiring officer is John. Several years ago when John was five years old, he was going through a tough time with his parents and their custody battle. Dr. C was the forensic psychologist on the case to evaluate John and add to the evidence so the judge could make the best decision. Throughout John’s life, he was in and out of halfway homes and getting in trouble for several different conducts. After John turned 18, he was released and free to be on his own. Dr. C has not heard from him in 5 years. John turned his life around. He went to college to become a police officer so he could help others like himself. He is now wanting to join law enforcement as a police officer and Dr. C is the forensic psychologist that was contracted to evaluate and screen all new employees. Dr. C realizes who John is and is shocked. He tells the commanding officer that John is a perfect fit and his background is clear. There were still misdemeanors on his record as juvenile. This is highly unethical because the psychologist failed to discuss with his direct report that John has a history of violent crimes and his psychological state is questionable. Dr. C put John and  the public at risk. With these two examples, it is highly important that the professional be held to not only a professional code of ethics but a specialty code of ethics as well.

Along with any high profile case comes controversial issues. Controversial issues can arise in this field if there is a high profile case that is in the media and the psychologist is targeted. If there are any findings of the forensic psychologist being unethical or unlawful, the media tends to make it controversial.  Police are viewed differently by all individuals but most will say they serve and protect our communities. Psychologists continue to help the police in their efforts and is an ever evolving field.

 Investigative Psychology

 In investigative psychology, the forensic psychologist has several different roles. The psychologist contributes to investigations of criminal behavior by profiling and other techniques. The forensic psychologist can also assist with pretrial identification methods. This subspecialty is highly important because the professional will be evaluating and potentially treating victims or witnesses of a crime. The main task that the forensic psychologist has is profiling. There are several different areas of profiling that the professionals do in the field. The most known are criminal and crime scene profiling (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). In criminal profiling the psychologist analyzes the emotional, cognitive behavior of a person that is believed to be a suspect for a crime. Although the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) relies on profilers, police officials and police psychologists question the technique. This process differs as it relates to crime scene profiling. Crime scene profiling is considered to be a developed technique that can provide extra assistance to law enforcement when looking at a violent or sex crime.

Suspect based profiling is the most common and most known used by investigative, police, and correctional forensic psychologists. The professional will evaluate the scenario, evidence, and psychological evaluations to target, rule out, or find a suspect (Morgan, Beer, and Fitzgerald , 2007).  Profiling is a good tool but should not be used all the time. There can be problems or areas that may result in ethical dilemmas. It has been argued that the methods of profiling are outdated, and do not have an updated view on the personality approach (Bartol & Bartol, 2012).  The validity of the psychologist can be questioned because the profiler may react or lead investigators to something they would refer to as a gut feeling. This could put law enforcement at risk. The psychologist could profile an extreme opposite of the suspect in question. This could waste precious time to find the real culprit. The detectives could also feel that they need to pressure the suspect and gain information by unethical interrogation methods. In order to resolve this dilemma, the detectives, psychologists, and police officers need to work closer to together as a unit. Many times each team is given their assignment and very rarely do they meet together until they have completed their portion. By continually checking in and confirming information with each aspect of the research, evaluations, and evidence is on target will help assist with the incorrect profiling and potential ethical dilemmas.

Forensic psychologists assist with the trial process as well. There are always cases that contribute to the evolving field. In the Atkins v. Virginia case in 2002, the forensic psychologist assisted the defense as a witness on trial. Daryl Atkins was convicted of capital murder, abduction, and armed robbery. The forensic psychologist testified that Atkins was mildly mentally retarded. Atkins was tried two times by the Supreme Court and both times received the death penalty. The Virginia Supreme Court relied on another case similar to this one Penry v. Limbaugh , the court felt that it was a cruel and unusual punishment for someone with a mental illness to receive the death penalty as it relates to the Eighth Amendment (The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, 2009).

The polygraph has been used for several years to detect is one if telling the truth. The polygraph continues to be a controversial topic as time and decades pass. With all the new technology, it is becoming more and more easier for criminals, job seekers, politicians, etc to pass with assistance of another device or technique. The validity is questioned with the polygraph because there are ways to cheat the test and with all the new tools available it can be easier for the test to be skewed. As with any field and controversial issues, research is continual to make the polygraph even more reliable when combining with psychological evaluations, evidence, and profiling.

Correctional Psychology

 Forensic psychologists have many tasks in the adult corrections field. The psychologists also have a clear understanding of the legal rights of inmates which include the right to treatment and the right to refuse treatment. The professionals also review psychological effects on imprisonment and develop different treatments and approaches for both correctional officers and inmates alike. In the beginning, courts granted minimum rights to inmates in the 1960’s, much less than current rights for inmates (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). Inmates should have the legal rights they are granted and deserve ethical treatment. Inmates have several rights, to receive mail, practice religion, treatment, and treatment refusal. Even though inmates have these rights, the court is able to step in and decide to what level the inmates are approved for.

One example of having the right to treatment needs to be ethical.  Inmates do not typically receive the greatest healthcare or healthcare systems, and could potentially receive inadequate medical care which violates his or her Eighth Amendment  right. The biggest question is what is the standard for determining the constitution had been violated? The inmates would have to prove that they are not receiving standard treatment and show a lack of carelessness in regards to the correctional officers (Bartol & Bartol, 2012). If an inmate is severely ill and not receiving medical treatment, this is unethical. Whether the inmate committed a cruel crime or not, he or she still has the right to proper medical attention. It is the forensic psychologists job to evaluate these situations and bear proper opinion on the next steps. The psychologist could assist in the process if the prisoners are seeking medical attention and being refused, the psychologist could pose as an expert or material witness.

There are consistent court cases in the field that can help develop forensic psychology even one step further. In the Clark v. Arizona case of 2006, Eric Clark killed a police officer at a traffic stop. He was convinced his whole town was abducted by aliens and was reacting on self defense. He pleaded insanity that he has schizophrenia. The court did not permit to use it and he was sentenced to prison (The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, 2012).  Upon entering the forensic psychologist could conduct an evaluation of his mental state. The psychologist could determine that he does have schizophrenia and be transported to a mental facility. The courts could have used the forensic psychologist before trial. This is a perfect example of needing more specialized psychologists to assist in all areas of the field.

There are always stories and pleadings from prison inmates that they were being abused by correctional officers. This is of course, without a doubt, controversial. The correctional officers may say that they could not control them otherwise, they were not cooperating, etc. The inmates could portray that they were a victim of a hate crime, attack, etc. The forensic psychologist could assist in this case. In the text Introduction to Forensic Psychology, Research and Evaluation, “The role of the forensic psychologist in correctional psychology is to conduct psychological assessments, inmate screening and classification, risk assessments, crisis intervention, assessment of correctional personnel, and competency for execution” (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 426). This situation is controversial, could become unethical. However the forensic psychologist is put in place so nether of those situations should occur.

Juvenile Psychology

In juvenile psychology, the forensic psychologist has several different roles and responsibilities that scope from the school system to the court system. Some of their roles in the school systems is to identify troubled youth who could be potentially dangerous and develop a psychological tool that can assess the risk. The psychologist can also evaluate and develop strategies to prevent violent behavior in juveniles. They also have a role in the court system of evaluating the psychology of a crime by a minor and the delinquency of a minor. Some issues can arise when working with juveniles. Many juveniles are naïve to their constitutional rights. According to Introduction to Forensic Psychology Research and Application, this concern is the largest “as new studies show that juveniles are more likely to come into contact with police, courts, and correctional facilities more than any other time in history” (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 188).  It is extremely imperative that we have forensic psychologists assist with the development of the minors.

Another area of concern is false confessions. Many juveniles are afraid to tell the truth depending on the consequences. Most juveniles do not know or comprehend their Miranda rights. . According to the study made by Redlich and Goodman in 2003, “69% of all participants falsely confessed” (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 201).  The juveniles felt pressured by police and could have falsely confessed. The role of the psychologist is to interview during the interrogation process so situations like this do not happen. The forensic psychologist has others roles to research on custody arrangements and competency decisions.

There are both positive and negative features of the juvenile courts.  It is the psychologist’s duty to insure that all information being gathered during a juvenile assessment is valid and accurate. It is key for the juveniles to understand their Miranda Rights during interrogation which sometimes is monitored by a forensic psychologist. There are various forms of waiving juveniles to criminal courts if the psychologist believes the juvenile should be tried as an adult.

Controversial issues are very prevalent to juvenile psychology. For example, if the juvenile does not understand his or her Miranda rights, he or she could ultimately confess to a crime that they did not commit. If the juvenile had a psychologist as back up to evaluate the confession and evidence, the situation may pan out differently. Juveniles could be in jails maybe prisons and potentially tried as an adult if they give a false confession and end up being accused of something terrible. These types of cases are privy to the media and the gatekeepers of the media tend to skew and mislead the public making it a more controversial topic.

This scenario relates to the Kent v. United States case. A juvenile, Morris Kent Jr. was going back and forth between the juvenile and adult court system. His attorney pleased that he be tried as a juvenile and that he could be rehabilitated. He was sentenced to 30-90 years and send to a mental institution. The US Supreme Court realized the ethical dilemma of the offender being transferred back and forth and since have revised the process to give guidelines for judges to use whether deicing on transferring to a juvenile court (Bartol & Bartol, 2012, p. 195).


Forensic psychology is an ever adapting field. It is hard to have one solid definition for the field as there are so many fields and aspects that intertwine. Within each field the forensic psychologist has roles and responsibilities to abide by. The field is a subspecialty of psychology, and within the specialty of forensic psychology, there are several specialties in the field: Criminal, Juvenile, Civil, Investigative/Legal, Correctional, and Police Psychology. Each subspecialty requires the forensic psychologist’s evaluations, research, assessments, counseling, profiling, and understanding of the field. As with any profession there can be ethical dilemmas, as long as the psychologist follows the APA Code of Ethics and the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, it will eliminate unneeded dilemmas. When removing ethical dilemmas, controversial topics. issues, and cases become grim. It can be very difficult for law enforcement. the Department of Justice, and psychologist to stay away from high profile cases that are inflicted by the media. Seminal court cases continue to change the field and set forth examples for the future. Research is continually being done in each field to ensure the highest level of confidence, confidentiality, evolution of the field.



American Psychiatric Association. (2011). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing Inc.

Bartol, C. R., & Bartol, A. M. (2012). Introduction to Forensic Psychology Research and Application (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Inc.

Bartol, C. R. (1996). Police Psychology : Then, Now, and Beyond. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 23(1), 70-89. doi:10.1177/0093854896023001006

Heilbrun, K., & Brooks, S. (2010, August). Forensic psychology and forensic science: A proposed agenda for the next decade. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 16(3), 219-253.

Kocsis, R. N. (2006, August). Validities and Abilities in Criminal Profiling : The Dilemma for David Canter’s Investigative Psychology. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 50(4), 458-477. doi:10.1177/0306624X06289179

Morgan, R. D., Beer, A. M., & Fitzgerald, K. L. (2007, January). Graduate Students Experiences, Interests, and Attitudes Toward Correctional/Forensic Psychology. Criminal Justice and Behavior, 34(1), 96-107.

The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. (2009). ATKINS v. VIRGINIA. Retrieved from

The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. (2012). Clark V. Arizona. Retrieved from




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