Webster defines “forensic” as “belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts of law.” Because the term “forensic” is often used today in TV crime show investigations and dramas, there sometimes is confusion in the general population that “forensic” is a term that relates specifically to crimes, which is not the case. Instead,“forensic” should be understood to mean “helpful in court cases,” rather than pertaining to crime.
Based on this definition, there are many types of professionals who may be considered “forensic professionals,” such as psychologists, economists, and pathologists. Forensic professionals with different specialties can be helpful to legal counsel when their area of expertise is required.
Although not every profession has a specialty in forensics, there are many expert witnesses in different professions who have been qualified to testify before a jury, thereby making them de facto forensic specialists.
The psychology profession, however, has recognized forensics as a subspecialty. As a consequence, standards of care and ethical guidelines have been adopted governing forensic psychology. For example, the Forensic Psychologist can be called upon to opine about etiology (disease causation), casualty, and or temporal relationships between a plaintiff’s assertions and the objective findings. Sometimes, as you might suspect, the Forensic Psychologist’s opinion may not support the plaintiff’s assertions.
How a Forensic Psychologist Can Help Support a Litigation Team
By applying scientific principals and areas of knowledge to each individual case, the Forensic Psychologist can:
- Help legal counsel understand the meaning and importance of scientific and other data, research, reports, and papers so that such information can be considered in the strategic development of a case,
- Help attorneys and jurors understand complex psychological issues such as the effects of trauma, brain injury, and the long term prognosis of such effects,
- Spot signs of malingering, feigning, secondary gain and factitious disorders (where the plaintiff fabricates their condition to get medical attention),
- Provide an expert opinion concerning whether a person’s assertions and symptoms are likely real or imagined,
- Assess pre- and post-incident functioning based upon the available information,
- Connect injuries such as TBI and trauma to the post-incident functioning of the injured person along aspects including vocational ability, future earnings loss, and emotional and interpersonal relationship disturbance, so that a jury may understand the damages suffered in determining compensation,
- Offer objective evidence to help support or clarify matters that may be in question at trial, and
- Communicate the scientific principles underlying their expert opinion to a judge and jury in an understandable manner.
In matters where terms of art and jargon abound, a forensic psychologist can clarify the otherwise confusing plethora of data. Offering a scientifically replicable approach that can withstand the scrutiny of a Daubert challenge, a Forensic Psychologist can testify, depending on the issue, on either the liability or damages side of a case.
The Independence of Forensic Psychologists
Forensic Psychologists are independent examiners. They provide objective opinions based on interview, testing, and documentation. They are unlike therapists or medical providers who treat a patient or client and act as the patient’s advocate.
Forensic Psychologists testify in civil matters for either plaintiff or defense, and in criminal matters, called by defense or prosecution. Procedurally, Forensic Psychologists evaluate the claimant, plaintiff, or defendant in a structured and scientifically rigorous manner. Although all communications are subject to discovery, communications are kept confidential and are made available to both the referring attorney and opposing counsel with an authorized release. Forensic specialists are expected to use standardized tests or instruments. A non-standardized approach or absence of substantiation for an opinion can be at best misinterpreted and at worst misperceived as intentional.
Although many Forensic Psychologists have become known as experts who testify, others have developed expertise as trial consultants. If you are involved in a difficult or complicated litigation and require the services of an expert Forensic psychologist with knowledge of both clinical and vocational matters, please consider Dr. Kenneth J. Manges and Associates.