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Psychologist as Consultant to the Court

NCJ Number
F W Kaslow
Date Published
20 pages
Viable and appropriate roles currently being performed by psychologists as consultants to courts, suggested education of such professionals to ensure competency, and future responsibilities are discussed in this work.
Serving as a consultant to the court is a relatively new role for the psychologist. Traditionally, forensics has been considered the area of psychiatric expertise. A consultant's role is advisory and collaborative; consultants have no line power of administrative authority over those with whom they are requested or assigned to work. Services of a forensic psychologist may be requested at any of the three stages in the judicial process (pretrial, trial, and posttrial). The best known role of the psychologist is that of an expert witness in criminal proceedings. The legitimacy of this role was clearly established in the landmark case of Jenkins v. United States (1972). Psychologists also assist the court by making evaluations of defendants to determine competency to stand trial. Similarly, psychologists may provide expert opinions regarding an individual's competency to be a witness. In civil cases, the psychologist may render an opinion concerning a person's capacity to manage business, financial, and property affairs. In domestic relations cases, psychologists may appear as witnesses for clients seeking child custody. In addition, psychologists who have worked as vocational counselors are uniquely qualified to serve as expert witnesses in personal injury cases. In many court clinics, psychologists conduct presentence evaluations and make appropriate recommendations to court regarding case disposition. Ideally, doctoral students interested in forensic psychology should be able to specialize in this area. Some of the content areas requiring coverage in forensic education or training curriculum include confidentiality, informed consent, and the role of the expert witness. Fields in which the role of the psychologist is expected to expand include evaluation of probation and parole efforts, juror selection, and law school courses. The work includes 30 references.