This article is written by Sanjana Jain, from  Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi. This article talks about the role forensic psychologists play in understanding criminal psychology.

Introduction

In India crime is considered as one of the major vices. By each passing year, the level of crime is increasing and causing devastating effects on people, institutions, and government security agencies. In order to curb such cases, several techniques have been adopted such as forensic odontology, criminal profiling, forensic psychology, etc. The use of these techniques depends upon the complexity of the crime, the nature of evidence, and the level of forensic technology available. Here we will discuss how forensic psychology plays a crucial role in understanding crime.

The work of Foreign Psychologists is diverse and wide-reaching. Foreign Psychologists perform many roles like they assist the police in the investigation of cases, provide advice while interrogating suspects or witnesses, work as an expert witness in court cases, conduct research, etc. Foreign Psychologists employes the use of several techniques such as face recognition, eye witness memory, and eyewitness testimony, in the 19th century these techniques were first employed in a murder case which was committed in 1896 i.e McCardell case (2001).

Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychology is often defined as the use of clinical specialities in the legal system. In order to provide an explanation for criminal acts and behaviour, forensic psychologists apply psychological research, data, and theory. This practice helps in determining whether the suspect is guilty or not or whether he/she should be convicted or not. It also plays an important role in punishing and preventing crimes. The word forensic is defined as the “scientific method of investigation of crime”, therefore forensic psychology is often described as a merger of law and psychology.

Whenever a crime is committed, people usually contact police who in turn comes to the crime spot and collect evidence from there, after collecting evidence from the crime scene they deliver them to forensic science laboratories, once the laboratories complete the scientific assessment they send the reports to court of law to help the court in deducing who, when, where, what, why and how. Thus forensic psychology plays a crucial role in determining whether the suspect shall be convicted or not.

History of forensic psychology

The history of Forensic Psychology dates back to 1968 when at the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the first lie detection division was set up. Earlier there were no formal training centers for professionals to be trained in lie detection, references were made from books and papers from the western culture on how to run lie detection tests.

In 1989, the court for the first time authorized to conduct narco-analysis and it was conducted by Dr. S.L. Vaya. But this test was conducted without the consent of the person in question, and it was pointed out that keeping the law and fundamental rights in mind consent and court sanctions are very important. Narco- Analysis is conducted in a room which is the same as an operation theatre with the help and guidance of a team of professional members that are doctor, nurse, and mental health practitioner.

In 2010 the Supreme Court held that tests like Brain Mapping, Narco-Analysis, and lie detection will be held only after the consent and all the information received after conducting these tests is enforceable as evidence in the court of law.

Thus there is a grey field observed on this as how on one hand courts find these scientific tools used by the forensic laboratories as violative of an individual’s fundamental rights and how on the other hand courts use the information extracted from tests to help them with crime scene analysis.

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Role of Forensic Psychologists

Forensic Psychologists apply the principles of psychology to the field of a criminal investigation. Forensic Psychology is used in criminal trials to ascertain whether the person in question’s mental state meets the requisite legal standards. The  roles that psychologists perform when they become professionally involved in criminal proceedings are as follows:

  • Evaluations and Assessments

To assess a person’s psychological state for legal purposes, evaluations and assessments are completed by forensic psychologists. Evaluations are done to acquire information for criminal court proceedings, for sentencing criminals or parole hearing,  or for family courts or civil courts, and forensic psychologists are responsible for assessing and reporting the results of the evaluation, and any decision made based on these reports is up to other legal professionals. It is the duty of the evaluator to inform the person being evaluated that everything in session will be open to scrutiny in a forensic report or expert testimony. Forensic psychologists also function as expert witnesses as they are called by the court to testify about the results of their evaluations.

  • Treatment

Forensic psychological treatment includes implementing measures and treatment of psychological problems that help in reducing problems and prevents crime. In both criminal as well as civil cases, treatment providers are asked to provide psychological interventions who need it or who request for it. In criminal cases, the forensic psychologists can work with those persons who have once committed a crime and also sentenced for it but are repeating those crimes again and again, or with the victims of drugs or alcohol abuse, mental illness, or anger issues. On the other hand in civil cases, forensic psychologists have to work with families going through divorce or custody cases, and they can also provide treatment to persons who have suffered psychological injuries because of trauma. 

  • Consultations 

Forensic Psychologists help to better understand the human behaviour of criminals, witnesses, victims, jury to attorneys or other legal professionals, by applying psychological expertise and research. Consultations can take several forms, such as:

  • Law Enforcement Consultations

It includes assisting with criminal profiling, determining the psychological fitness of officers, or expertise on criminal behaviours. Despite the fact that criminal profiling isn’t very widely used in the investigation, it’s an appealing aspect of psychology to forensic psychologists, there are several methods and approaches related to criminal profiling, but there is still a doubt about the efficiency and accuracy of criminal profiling in general.

  • Trial consultants

Forensic Psychologists work with legal professionals, such as attorneys, and help them in preparing cases, jury selection, development of case strategy, and witness preparation. Under this Forensic Psychologists rely heavily on research, to best advise the persons with whom they are working with. As trial consultations are often hired by one specific side in a trial, psychologists faced with many issues, so it’s the responsibility of the psychologists to be neutral while consulting and shall not choose aside to support and consequentially omit or create information that would be beneficial to one side or another.

  • Expert Testimony

Expert witnesses have the ability to testify more knowledge of a situation or topic as they are experts in certain topics and have specialized knowledge about it, unlike fact witnesses, who are limited only to testify about what they know or have observed. In matters such as mental health or other areas such as social, experimental, cognitive, or developmental,  expert witnesses in forensic psychology are called upon to testify. Earlier expert witnesses primarily served the court rather than the litigants, but nowadays this does not happen and recruitment of expert witnesses is completed by trial attorneys. The judge has the power to decide whether an expert witness will be accepted or not. 

  • Academia / Research 

Academic Foreign psychologists engage in teaching, training, and researching students about the foreign psychology, about the psychology of criminal behaviour, courtroom, investigation, assessment, and treatment of offenders and also teache how to carry out criminal psychological research. But however the role of academic foreign psychologists is not only limited to teaching, its main role is to carry out research in the field of interest. Every academic foreign psychologist has their own research interest and they research on its topic and get specialized knowledge about it by researching it.

Role of forensic psychology in the courtroom

When the forensic psychologists are called by the police, lawyers, or judges to interview and assess criminals, its role begins, and the information acquired from these interviews are used as evidence in the court of law.  In a medico-legal ward, under a court mandate, a Forensic Psychologist can work towards the rehabilitation of a criminal or a victim.

According to Section 45 of the Indian Evidence Act 1872, “the court can take help of the experts, whenever it has to form an opinion upon a point of foreign law or of science or art, or as to the  identification of handwriting and the opinion of such an expert is relevant.” So according to this a forensic psychologist by presenting facts can assist the courts to execute the law in a just manner, these facts are in the form of reports of interviews and assessment of the person in question.

The role played by forensic psychologists will shed a light on the “men’s rea” of the person in question, mens rea is the state of mind of the person who generally pleads that he is not guilty in the witness stand during a trial. Those who plead guilty, claim that they have done the crime under influence of some substance or they were unaware that they have engaged in the crime, this gives the defense an opportunity to plead for lesser punishment or delay the final verdict of the judge. In such cases, experts are required to step in and assimilate the interview and assessment of the person in question to judge and give an opinion on how true the person’s statement is, this helps the judge to execute a judgment which is fair and also is in light of the safety of society and the individual.

Section 45 of The Indian Evidence Act 1872, also allows the forensic psychologist to give their expertise in solving criminal investigations, and this gives the opportunity to psychologists to make their forensic methods, according to the needs of cases.

Some specific functions of forensic psychologists

Some functions that forensic psychologists are asked to perform are as follows:

Police psychology

  • Helps in developing psychological profiles of serial offenders.
  • Teaching and training the police officers on how to deal with mentally ill individuals.
  • After a shooting incident provides counselling to police officers.

Psychology of Crime and Delinquency

  • Conducting research on the development of psychopathy.
  • As a research policy advisor consults with legislators and governmental agencies to prevent stalking.
  • Consulting with school personnel, for identifying youth which can be dangerous for society.
  • For assessing the risk among the mentally ill, develop a psychological test.

Victimology and Victim Services

  • Interviewing the persons who are the victims or witnesses of crime.
  • Providing training to victim service providers on the psychological reaction of criminal victimization, eg posttraumatic stress disorder.
  • Provides education to service providers on the impact of multiculturalism, when victims need mental health.

Legal psychology

  • Conducts evaluation of child custody and child abuse.
  • Through community surveys and other research methods, assists attorneys in jury selection.
  • Evaluate the defendant’s competency to stand trial.

                    

Conclusion

It has been seen that the legal background of forensic psychology is not as strong as we expected it to be, currently, it is used as evidence in the Indian courts. So an effective standard operating procedure has to be enforced, such that forensic psychology comes to play, and standardized guidelines shall be made which shall suggest where forensic psychology needs to be involved. In order to decrease recidivism, prisons around the country shall have forensic mental health professionals to sustain the path of rehabilitation.

References


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