Forensic Psychologists’ Roles in Subspecialties

Introduction

September 11, 2001, is a day that has and will remain tragically memorable to many people across the world, and specifically the Americans. The mention of the date September 11, triggers memories of the terrorist attack on four cities of the world’s strongest nation, the United States. The attack was targeted at the World Trade Center, the twin towers in New York; the Virginia Pentagon at Arlington; while the fourth crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The aftermath of this incident was a death toll of about 3000 people, with over 6000 surviving serious injuries. The incident caused psychological torture to hundreds of thousands of Americans who either witnessed the shocking event or had some of their relatives affected.

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There are some questions that the above incident beg answers from. What was the motivation of the perpetrators of this criminal act? What was their driving force? What did they plan to achieve? Is it is possible that one can even up with an enemy by attacking the innocent and shedding innocent blood? What is usually the driving force of serial killers? These are some of the questions that human is grappling to understand. Crime has been on earth since Cain killed Abel in those early years of life. Understanding factors that would motivate an individual to commit a crime has attracted the attention of many scholars (Faller, 1991, p. 89). As such, even in those early years, the law was put in place to help limit levels of crime in society. People who were involved in the interpretation of this law had to be in a position to determine what could have driven such individuals to commit such crimes.

Killing is one of the most heinous of criminal acts. According to Martinson (1979, p. 245) human has developed some of the most sophisticated weapons of mass destruction. The machine guns, the cannons, the atomic and nuclear bombs, and other heavy artilleries are made to kill human beings, not animals. How then can a man develop such a dangerous tool to commit what society considers as a crime? Are there situations when such actions may not be considered unethical in our society? Are there cases when killing would warrant a reward and praise by the members of the society? These questions would be responded to by some of the past incidents that took place in various parts of the world. The American SEAL (a special wing of the American marine) was specially trained to go and capture the then world’s most wanted and most dangerous criminal, Osama bin Laden (Blackburn, 1993, p. 78).

They succeeded in reaching him in his hideout but failed to capture him alive, hence opted to kill him on the spot. What followed was a celebration in the United States and other countries around the world. The rationality of this celebration is subject to some questions. Although one may justify this celebration with the claim that this community and others around the world felt that justice had been done when the murderer was murdered, some questions would remain unanswered. For instance, how effective is the justice of killing someone who killed? How would this compensate for the lives that were lost? The death of the world’s feared terrorist indeed reduced the number of the terrorists, and now that he was the head and the chief financer, the organization may be affected negatively. However, his place was taken by another member of the gang and their operations are still in progress.

These are a series of questions that are always aroused when one commits a crime and there is a need to seek a legal redress that would result in some form of punishment. Some ethical values should be observed when undertaking such decisions, some of which come with a lot of dilemmas. For a long time, this dilemma has been left in the hands of philosophers and law practitioners. They have been left to explain the rationale behind criminal acts, and for some time, society thought that they are the right experts. However, the recent crimes have gone beyond the explanation of these two professions (Rogers, 1990, 64). For instance, the two professions may not be in a position to explain why a human being without any mental problems would kill and eat a fellow human being. Psychology, therefore, came in handy in explaining such criminal acts in around 1900. Jacobs (1988, 312)notes that it came to explain some of the things that would transpire in the mind of a human being that would make him or her act in a criminal manner.

Forensic psychology came much later in the mid of the twentieth century. It has gained a lot of popularity in the recent past and currently it is the best tool in analyzing criminal activities. Stewart (1991, 331) defines forensic as the use of scientific methods to investigate and solve the crime and find out who committed them. The fact that this tool can investigate a crime and successfully lead to the perpetrators who at times may not have been seen by any witness committing the crime makes forensic psychology very popular among criminal investigating units around the world. In a criminal situation, forensic psychology would be used to help investigate the crime and trace the involved parties. This would be the case especially when the culprits involved cannot be traced because there were no eyewitnesses, and the crime itself was committed using sophisticated methods.

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This study seeks to investigate the roles of forensic psychology professionals in various subspecialties of law and crime management.

Criminal

In a criminal case, a forensic professional’s service would be required on several fronts. At first, this professional can help in determining the motive behind the crime. He or she is in a position to unravel the secrets behind a given criminal activity. This professional would also be in a position to help determine the people responsible for a given criminal case. Through forensic studies, an individual is in a position to reveal the activities that happened before the criminal incident and what transpired afterward (Martinson, 1974, 34). Various seminal court cases have greatly influenced the use of forensic psychology in this specialty. For instance, Wallerstein and Blakeslee (1994, 741) report on the case of Lawrence vs. Texas. It was considered one of the most controversial cases. There were so many loopholes in the case that the defense attorney was able to twist the case from the main focus because of the lack of forensic evidence. The ruling favored the accused unfairly.

In any process of investigating a criminal act, it is very important to ensure that ethics is maintained. This is especially so when there is no strong evidence against the suspect. Some of the cases may require a DNA test done on the accused. However, the law says that such a test should be conducted on an individual voluntarily (Friendship, Thornton, Erikson, & Beech, 2001, p. 126). However, because of investigative purposes, the accused may be forced to undergo this process, a fact that may be considered unethical. There is therefore a dilemma of either maintaining the ethics by failing to conduct the test hence failing to prove a point, or conducting the test and proving the point, giving no regard to the ethics. Another ethical dilemma may come when there is a need to investigate an individual without his knowledge. This is an infringement of the rights of an individual. However, a decision may have to be reached either to maintain the ethics or get to the roots of a criminal case. To solve this dilemma, the law may need to be enacted that gives exemption when an individual can be subjected to such investigative procedures when one is suspected of being part of or wholly responsible for criminal activity.

There are several unresolved controversial issues that a forensic psychology professional may face within this subspecialty. For instance, a suspect is always said to be innocent until proven guilty. However, there are cases that criminal cases that may have strong evidence against the suspect. In such cases, a forensic psychologist will have to treat the suspect as an innocent person, without any undue pressure or intimidation. This subspecialty requires some further research. There is a need to research the factors that always motivate criminals to act criminally. There is also a need to research further on how a criminal may be identified among a multitude of people without engaging them with interrogation that would make them suspicious.

Juvenile

There are various cases when a minor may commit an act that passes as a crime either intentionally or accidentally. Because the action is considered a crime under the law of the land, the child would have to be put in a prison facility meant for children: the juvenile prison. Within this facility, the aim is to ensure that the child is made to appreciate that this is a facility that is meant to correct their actions that were not ethical within the society. The forensic psychologist will have a great duty to perform in this case. First, it will be his or her duty to determine what led to the action that is considered criminal. A child could have killed another when they were playing and as such, it was not intentional at all. The child may be traumatized because of two things. The first is that it has been denied the opportunity to be with its family and has to put up with the tougher life at the facility. The second cause of trauma would be the fact that the child is accused of killing a colleague whose death may also be paining it. A forensic psychologist would need to talk to the child and convince it that their stay at the facility is only temporary and that this facility was just as good as home. There are cases when a child would steal because of hunger. The verdict may be that the child has to be sent to prison, especially if this theft may pass as robbery with violence.

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The forensic psychologist should first be able to explain to such a child that its actions are not accepted by the law and that if it needs anything, then there is the right channel of obtaining it. There are some cases involving children that have been considered controversial. Ceci and Bruck (1993, p. 431) note that Christopher Simmons v. State’s case on September 9, 1993, was considered controversial. There are some ethical challenges that a forensic psychologist would have to face in the process of undertaking his or her duties. One such challenge is the need to explain to the child the magnitude of its offense. A child may be under the shock of the fact that he is sent to prison. Explaining how heinous its actions were may further affect it psychologically. It may also be a challenge recommending corporal punishment to such a child because of age. There should be clear legislation on how to handle a minor when convicted of such a crime to resolve these challenges.

In the cause of performing his or her duties in this subspecialty, a forensic psychologist may encounter some challenges. For instance, there is an unresolved issue on whether a minor convicted of a crime should be given the death penalty or not.

Further research should be done so that some measures are developed to help ensure that the child is made to appreciate its mistakes without any undue pressure.

Civil

Civil cases also need a forensic psychologist in several ways. One of the most common forms of civil cases in our local courts is defamation. A forensic psychologist may be called upon to help with the investigation. In this case, this professional would help determine whether or not a suspect is telling the truth. Several civil cases have gone without proper investigation because of a lack of proper procedures to do the same. However, forensic psychologists would have to encounter several challenges when conducting their duties. One such challenge is the fact that reading a lie or truth in an individual may not be as easy in a civil case as would be in a criminal incident. Some of the civil cases are not given a lot of weight by society as criminal acts and therefore no guilt would be registered in the face of a suspect. This field requires further research to help come up with best practices that a forensic psychologist can use to help in an investigative procedure.

Investigative

Wrightsman (2001, p. 67) says that it is in the interrogative processes that a forensic psychologist would be needed the most. When a crime is committed, it is always common that the criminal would want to disown the act. The current society is getting more and more sophisticated, especially due to emerging technologies. Some of the crimes would be concealed in such a way that the person who is responsible may not be traced using the normal police machinery. A forensic psychologist would be required to unravel what transpired in the given case. Forensic psychologists have always been responsible for investigating such acts as murder or rape cases where the perpetrators have concealed their paths completely. Various court cases have necessitated forensic psychologists’ services. For a long time, court cases had been based on the availability of a witness (Blush, 1987, p. 7). However, the decision to allow for forensic evidence in court proceedings has made this process one of the most popular forms of investigations. There are some challenges that a forensic professional would face when conducting his duties. One such challenge has been cases where suspects cannot be narrowed down to a few manageable numbers of individuals. It is not possible to carry forensic investigation on a large number of people without having a strong clue as to who could be responsible. Some controversial issues are yet to be resolved in this subspecialty. There are some cases where any forensic evidence gotten from an investigation has to be supported by other evidence for it to hold any value in a court of law. There is therefore a need to conduct further research on how forensic evidence can stand its test in a court of law without the need for a witness.

Correctional

The correctional facilities are always meant to ensure that convicts change their habits for the better. Within this subspecialty, a forensic psychologist would be responsible for ensuring that a convict understands and appreciates that the facility is meant to change his characters which society considers unethical. A forensic psychologist would also help determine if a convict has transformed and is now fit to go back to society as a changed person. The need to have forensic psychologists within the correctional facilities was motivated by some of the decisions made by the courts. For instance, when one is given a life imprisonment sentence or even the death penalty, there is a need to ensure that such a person is not in a position to commit a further crime within this facility (Faller, 1991, p. 91).

There are cases when a forensic psychologist would be left in dilemma on how to handle some of the criminals within this facility. It is very difficult to handle a convict who is convinced that he was convicted wrongly. He or she may not be in a position to appreciate that this is a correctional facility because in the fast case he or she believes that he/she did not commit the crime. Some of the criminals are always too cruel to be handled by these professionals. To help ease this burden, the prosecution should always make an effort to convict people who are responsible for given crimes, and they should be in a position to prove beyond any doubt that a crime was committed by the suspect to eliminate the denials on the side of the convict.

Police

In the police force, the service of a forensic psychologist is very important. The police force is charged with a very challenging responsibility of maintaining law and order. They have to deter crime within the society and therefore they must be in a position to detect beforehand, a criminal act before it is committed. A forensic psychologist would be needed to help detect any plans for a criminal act. He or she would be needed to help identify a criminal and help detect his intent to commit a crime. According to Blackburn (1993, p. 36), forensic psychology within the police force has gained popularity, especially due to some cases when a criminal would be released not because he is innocent, but because the police lack sufficient evidence to prove that the suspect is responsible for a given criminal act. In the case of Kodwar v. State, a Serbian court was not able to convict Kodwar of a rape case committed against Faith because of lack of sufficient evidence to prove that he was responsible (Martinson, 1974, p. 43). Lodwar, a police officer, left the camp and invaded the house of Faith where he committed the crime. His commandant admitted that at the said time Kodwar was not within the camp. Faith was able to identify him amongst others. However, due to a lack of forensic evidence, he was set free.

A forensic psychologist may face several ethical challenges in conducting his duties within this subspecialty. There is always a lack of trust between the police force and the public, a fact that may affect their ability to conduct a successful investigation. It is also unfortunate that some of the members of the police force are the ones that are committing a crime. To solve this dilemma, the public should be made to appreciate that the police are part of the society meant to protect them and therefore they should trust it. The police officers should also be counseled regularly on the importance of maintaining ethics.

Conclusion

Forensic psychology is one of the most recent scientific methods that have been developed to help investigate crime. The world is getting advanced technologically and with this come various criminal acts that use sophisticated mechanisms that normal investigation may not be in a position to unearth. There are occasions when one would commit a crime without letting any traces that would betray him or her as the perpetrator of such crime. It calls for equally sophisticated methods of investigation that would help unravel some of the carefully concealed paths of the crime and lead to the real situations that lead to the criminal incident. There are several subspecialties where forensic psychology is very important in coming up with reliable solutions. In a criminal incident involving adults, forensic psychology will be useful as stated above. In a juvenile case, forensic psychology would be very important in designing appropriate investigative procedures that would help get the right information from a minor without inflicting excessive fear, pain, or any form of intimidation on them. In a civil case, forensic psychology comes in to help investigate such cases where it is difficult to prove that a given case is true, for instance, a case where an individual is trying to prove the paternity of a child. In investigative procedures, forensic psychology has proven to be very important, especially when it comes to the process of determining whether a person is telling the truth or not. In a correctional facility, forensic psychology would help in determining the progress of an individual, especially in assessing the positive change that an individual has experienced. To the police, forensic psychology is very important in the identification of criminals in large multitudes. It helps them track and identify criminals and determine when an individual is making a false statement or not.

References

Blackburn, R. (1993). The Psychology of Criminal Conduct: Theory, Research and Practice. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Blush, G.J. & Ross, K.L. (1987). Sexual allegations in divorce: the SAID syndrome. Conciliation Courts Review, 25(1), 1-11.

Ceci, S.J. & Bruck, M. (1993). Suggestibility of the child witness: a historical review and synthesis. Psychological Bulletin, 113(3). 403-439.

Faller, K.C. (1991). Possible explanations for child sexual abuse allegations in divorce. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 61 (1) 86-91.

Friendship, C., Thornton, D., Erikson, M., & Beech, A. (2001). Reconviction: A critique and comparison of two main data sources in England and Wales. Legal and Criminological Psychology, 6(2), 121–9.

Jacobs, J.W. (1988). Euripides’ Medea: a psychodynamic model of severe divorce pathology. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 92(2), 308-319.

Martinson, R. (1974). ‘What works? Questions and answers about prison reform’, Public Interest, 35, 22–54.

Martinson, R. (1979). ‘New findings, new views: A note of caution regarding sentencing reforms’, Hosfra Law Review, 7(3), 242–58.

Rogers, M.L. (1990). Coping with alleged false sexual molestation: examination and statement analysis procedures. Issues in Child Abuse Accusations, 2(2) 57-68.

Stewart, J.W. (1991). The molestation charge. California Family Law Monthly, 7(9) 329-335.

Wallerstein, J.S., & Blakeslee, S. (1994). Child visitation interference in divorce. Clinical Psychology Review, 14(8), 737-742.

Wrightsman, L.S. (2001). Forensic Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Forensic Psychologists’ Roles in Subspecialties
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