Forensic application of social sciences

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He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Forensic Psychology

FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY is the application of psychological knowledge, theory and skills to the understanding and functioning of the legal and criminal justice system.

  • encompasses psychology and the law, the psychology of police and policing, victim services, addiction services and family services.

  • Methods and education different from psychiatry

  • MD vs. PhD, psychological tests, narcoanalysis and hypnosis

Forensic Psychology

  • Hugo Munsterburg (1908) – realized the potential of psychological theory to criminal law

  • This later developed into research strategies assessing the accuracy of eyewitnesses

  • What are the problems associated with eyewitness testimony?

Eyewitness Testimony

Influenced by:

  • Beliefs

  • Motives

  • Stress

  • Environmental factors

  • Expectancy

  • Stereotypes

Eyewitness Testimony

Problems stem from two sources

  • Human processing system

  • Procedures used by law enforcement to obtain eyewitnesses

  • E.g., wording of questions, induced bias, confidence malleability, weapon focus, and the forgetting curve

Eyewitness Testimony

  • Even with this research, courts were reluctant to accept eyewitness accounts as unreliable

  • That is, until the advent of DNA evidence

  • So now, psychological research (started so long ago) is helping change modern criminalistics

Forensic Psychology Assessment

Forensic Psychology Assessment

  • A quantitative approach of evaluating:

  • Personality

  • Psychopathology

  • Mental functioning

  • Reduce subjectivity (Daubert ruling)

Forensic Psychology Assessment

Projective tests

  • Rorschach

  • Thematic Apperception Test

Personality Inventories

  • California Psychological Inventory

  • Psychopathy Checklist

Forensic Psychiatry

The assessment and treatment of mentally abnormal offenders, as well as the legal aspects of psychiatry. This includes knowledge of the law relating to ordinary psychiatric practice, civil law and issues of criminal responsibility.

Forensic Psychiatry

  • Isaac Ray (1838) Treatise on the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity

  • Influenced judges and others in criminal cases

  • Changes in laws (NG by reason of insanity) led to the psychiatrist as expert witness

Forensic Psychiatry

3 main subsections:

  • Criminal

  • Competency (to stand trial), legal insanity, treatment

  • Civil

  • Injury, domestic relations, competency (will)

  • Administrative

  • Confidentiality, privacy issues, competency (professional)

Assessment of competency

Psychiatrists assess mental state :

  • In the past (legal insanity)

  • In the present (competency to stand trial)

  • In the future (prediction of dangerousness)

Assessment of competency

Most states follow some form of the McNaughten rule, which states:

“a person will be found not guilty by reason of insanity if at the time of the commission of the crime, the person was suffering from such mental infirmity or disease that he did not know the nature and quality of his action”

The Hinckley Decision

After the Hinckley decision, Congress adopted the Omnibus Crime Code for Insanity:

“A person would be found not guilty by reason of insanity if at the time of the commission of the crime the defendant could not appreciate the criminality of his behavior”

And the concept of Guilty, but mentally ill

Modus Operandi vs. Signature

MO, or crime scene assessment, can:

  • Determine characteristics of the offender

  • Develop post-offense behavior and apprehension plan

  • Develop interview strategies

  • Determine the ‘signature’ of the offender

  • Determine where evidence may be located

Modus Operandi

Major Atcherly, of Scotland Yard in 1896, pioneered the use of MO

10 categories relating to an offenders MO

  • Classword (property)

  • Entry

  • Means

  • Object taken

  • Time

  • Style

  • Tale

  • Pals

  • Transport

  • Trademark = Signature

What is a killer’s signature?

  • Psychological calling card

  • Detectives are trained to look for the unusual

  • A signature is a personal expression, an imprint that he/she leaves at the scene

  • They are psychologically compelled and they never change


  • So, an MO is an operation or method of committing a crime

  • They may change slightly from crime to crime (adaptive)

  • But a signature is a psychological component which does not change

  • The ritual may evolve, but the theme persists

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