Forensic psychology, by definition, both refers to “the research endeavor that examines the aspects of human behavior directly related to the legal process” and “the professional practice of psychology within, or in consultation with, a legal system that embraces both civil and criminal law” (Bartol, 2004, p. 8).
Unlike clinical psychology which deals more often with the normal mind, forensic psychology usually deals with the analysis of abnormal personality disorders allegedly sufferred temporarily or permanently, by subjects involved in a legal case using currently accepted psychological knowledge, and has to translate them in a language understandable in legal proceedings. Using a psychologist as an expert witness in court poses some ethical impliations, which may greatly affect the patient in question as well as the field of psychology itself.
The Allegiance of the Expert Witness The forensic psychologist, according to currently accepted ethical standards, must never take sides in the court. He owes his moral allegiance neither to the defense nor the prosecution, but only to his profession (APA, n. d. , p. 658). However, despite our increasing knowledge on the science of human behavior, psychology in itself is not a complete science. Findings and information gathered may be limited or uncertain up to some degree.
Therefore, the pscyhologist’s main objective, in cases wherein the patient is the alleged offender, is to determine whether or not the patient in question would still be able subject the community into further danger (Blau, 1998, p. 396).. A notable example would be the assassination attempt of former U. S. President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley, Jr. Although, the verdict of “not guilty” shocked many Americans, the mental state of the accused has caused him to be rehabilited indefinitely in a mental institution, preventing further harm to the communities around him (PBS, n. d. ). Issues of Confidentiality and Malingering
Unlike clinical psychology whose ultimate aim is for the patient’s well being and improved mental health, all findings of forensic psychology are considered legal documents and information given in legal proceedings may even put the subject in deep jeopardy. Medical documents are considered confidential information and may not be disseminated without the patient’s consent, but psychological evidences presented in court cannot guarantee such confidentiality. Moreover, the patient may even be exposed to the dangers of unnecessary public shame and ridicule, regardless of the veracity of the psychological analyses.
In the case of United States v. Binion, wherein the outcome of the verdict depended on the sanity of the individual, test results showed that Binion was malingering, therefore adding points to his original sentence. The APA guidelines prompted forensic psychologists to present all sources of information regarding their findings, indifferent from personal bias (APA, n. d, p. 664). However, there exists no standardized tests to determine whether a person is malingering or not, and the results would largely rely on the expert’s discretion. Conclusion Psychology is the scientific study of the mind, often for the purpose of improving its state.
But at present, its potential is still uncertain. The mind is like a Pandora’s box, able to unleash both unknowable forces of grace and misfortune. The improvement of mental health of individuals is necessary for a stable community, but state justice is equally important. Forensic psychology seeks to aid in the search for that justice, but comes with great ethical burden. Therefore, the practitioners of forensic psychology must constantly adhere to strict ethical standards and professional moderation in order to make accurate findings and help establish justice.
References Bartol, C. (2004). Introduction to forensic psychology. London: Sage Publications Inc. American Psychological Association. (1991). Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists. Law and Human Behavior. Volume 15. No. 6. Retrieved July 9, 2009 from http://www. ap- ls. org/links/currentforensicguidelines. pdf.. Blau, T. (1998). The Psychologist as Expert Witness. New York: Wiley. PBS. (n. d. ). John Hickley Jr. Retrieved July 9 2009 from http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/amex/reagan/peopleevents/pande02. html.