The need for collaboration between law and psychology for the proper functioning of the judicial system is becoming increasingly evident. Psychology and law have in common their object of intervention, which is none other than the conduct of the person. In reality, Psychology is an “ally” of law, Since facing questions of the psychology of justice cooperates in the forum (court or tribunal), and improves the exercise of law.
One of the roles of a forensic psychologist is to publish expert reportsIn other words, to be a forensic expert. The forensic expert is responsible for carrying out a psychological assessment directly associated with the legal case in charge on the basis of his experience and specific knowledge.
In this regard, a forensic psychologist may not express personal opinions without a scientific basis, should not issue professional opinions (for example, the presence of psychopathology) without having properly assessed it, should not use methods inappropriate assessment, must be impartial and must use verified information. In addition, the report issued by the forensic expert must be reproducible.
Definition of forensic expertise
Pure forensic expertise is the action derived from a technical recognition of one or more specialists which serves as evidence for a judge or court. The purpose of forensic assessments is to aid and facilitate the work of judges and courts. That is to say that it is provide the court with the technical knowledge of an expert in the form of a report and oral testimony (Ratification of the expert report).
It should be emphasized that forensic assessments are not binding on the court, but are often a very useful tool for judges to clarify any doubts that may arise in the case they are trying. To give an example in psychology, psychological forensic expertise stands out in the area of witness credibility analysis, As well as expert reports on victims of child sexual abuse.
In Spain, the law that governs the issuance of forensic expertise in its entirety is the Law on Criminal Procedure.
Who can request this service?
In Spain, there are generally 2 ways to contact a psychologist for an expertise:
- At the request of a party (art. 632 LECr): both by the prosecution and the defense.
- At the request of judges, courts or interested parties (457-458 LECr).
There are several reasons why a forensic expert may need a forensic examination. In general, there are two main areas in judicial matters which delimit the themes which are likely to require such assessments: expertise in the civil, family and professional fields, and, finally, expertise in criminal spheres.
Civil, family and work environment
- The power of the homeland.
- Safeguard and custody.
- Psychological effects and risks of separation or divorce.
- Total or partial disability.
- Damage and psychological consequences resulting from accidents.
- Parental capacity for adoption.
- Testamentary capacity.
- Incapacity for work or incapacity for work.
- Credibility of the testimony.
- Domestic violence and gender-based violence crimes.
- Responsibility assessment (cognitive and volitional capacities).
- Victimological psychological sequelae.
- Child sexual abuse.
- Crimes against sexual freedom.
- Danger and criminal recidivism.
What work does the forensic psychologist usually do?
Some of the most frequently asked questions of the forensic psychologist in the criminal justice field are:
- Why did this person commit this crime? (Motivation).
- What are the consequences of the victim?
- Does the person have a mental disorder? (The person’s accountability is assessed).
- What personality characteristics define the defendant?
- What is the probability that the defendant will repeat the offense?
- How credible is the child’s testimony in relation to the alleged abuse?
Stages of psychological forensic expertise
Basically, five major steps can be delineated for the development of forensic expertise in psychology. Depending on the complexity of the issue and the number of people to be assessed, the process will be more or less long, as will the costs.
1. First contact
The request is received and attempts are made to clarify the essential points. At this point, the forensic psychologist decides to accept or reject the case.
2. Case documentation
Exploration of sources of information, reading and study of the judicial file, Documents, actions, etc.
3. Psychological assessment
The people involved in the object of the evaluation are evaluated. In the report, this section is very important, because it must state very clearly the methodology used by the expert, the interviews carried out, the techniques used as well as the date and place of each evaluation session.
4. Written report
It is absolutely essential that the clarity of the presentation, the structure of the report and give a clear and concise answer to the questions asked by the judge or the client. At the end of the report, the conclusions and recommendations made by the expert on the basis of what has been assessed should appear.
5. Testimony in the courtroom
This is the ratification of the report during an oral trial. The questioning of a forensic expert by lawyers is common, and even a “collision” can occur (questioning with another professional psychologist who normally maintains a position different from ours).
Psychiatric diagnoses are one of the most controversial points in expert psychology reports. We must emphasize that personality descriptions, diagnoses, predictions of behavior … should always be limited to the situation in which the data was obtained, and you should be especially careful when making statements based on personal opinions (Since they can easily lead to complaints against the professional psychologist).
Can a psychologist be a forensic expert?
Unlike the practice of clinical psychology (in which the PIR is required to practice in the national health system and the official Master in General Health Psychology is required to practice in private consultation), in Spain there are currently no current regulations on the practice of forensic psychology. This means that any graduate or graduate in psychology can issue a psychological expert report before a judge, court or popular jury.
In fact, in most schools of psychology there is a roster of experts compiled by the schools themselves, which is usually open twice a year. In some schools, such as the College of Psychologists of Catalonia, there is the possibility of accrediting a specialization in forensic psychology, Having satisfied a number of requirements. In recent years, great professionals in the field, such as Maria José Català, have been calling for a state regulatory framework.
It should be emphasized that few specialties of psychology require as much preparation and varied knowledge as the field of forensic psychology, and it is strongly recommended, in order to avoid possible denunciations, the formal preparation of future experts. forensic.