Forensic Psychology and Law
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Forensic Psychology and Law

Ronald Roesch, Patricia A. Zapf, Stephen D. Hart

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eBook - ePub

Forensic Psychology and Law

Ronald Roesch, Patricia A. Zapf, Stephen D. Hart

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Über dieses Buch

Praise for Forensic Psychology and Law

"In Forensic Psychology and Law, three internationally known experts provide exceptional coverage of a wide array of topics that address both the clinical applications of forensic psychology and the role of psychological science in understanding and evaluating legal assumptions and processes."
—Norman Poythress, PhD, Research Director and Professor, Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute, Dept. of Mental Health Law and Policy

" Forensic Psychology and Law is a major contribution to the teaching of law and psychology. Roesch, Zapf, and Hart offer a timely, comprehensive, and succinct overview of the field that will offer widespread appeal to those interested in this vibrant and growing area. Outstanding."
—Kirk Heilbrun, PhD, Professor and Head, Department of Psychology, Drexel University

"In this volume, three noted experts have managed to capture the basic elements of forensic psychology. It is clearly written, well organized, and provides real world examples to hold the interest of any reader. While clarifying complex issues, the authors also present a very balanced discussion of a number of the most hotly debated topics."
—Mary Alice Conroy, PhD, ABPP, Psychological Services Center, Sam Houston State University

A Comprehensive, Up-to-Date Discussion of the Interface Between Forensic Psychology and Law

Forensic Psychology and Law covers the latest theory, research, and practice in the field and provides thought-provoking discussion of topics with chapters on:

  • Forensic assessment in criminal and civil domains
  • Eyewitness identification
  • Police investigations, interrogations, and confessions
  • Correctional psychology
  • Psychology, law, and public policy
  • Ethics and professional issues

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Chapter 1
INTRODUCTION TO PSYCHOLOGY AND LAW: Civil and Criminal Applications


In this chapter, you will become familiar with:
  • The definition of forensic psychology
  • The history of forensic psychology
  • The varied roles that forensic psychologists play
  • The professional associations and publications relevant to forensic psychologists
  • The structure of the legal system
  • The similarities and differences in the fields of psychology and law
  • The training opportunities for students who wish to pursue a career as a forensic psychologist
One of the questions that students in undergraduate psychology and law classes ask their professors is, “How can I become a profiler?” Clearly, television shows like CSI and Criminal Minds, as well as movies such as Silence of the Lambs, have piqued student interest to be involved in what is perceived as exciting and engaging work. The reality is that there is little market for profilers (see Box 1.1) and a career in forensic psychology is not the track to pursue if one has this interest. Indeed, one survey of forensic psychiatrists and psychologists found that only about 10% had ever engaged in criminal profiling and only a small percentage believe it is a scientifically reliable practice (Torres, Boccaccini, & Miller, 2006). Forensic psychology is a fascinating field that has far more to offer students who want to work at the intersection of psychology and law.

Box 1.1 On Criminal Profiling

Due to depictions in popular media (e.g., Silence of the Lambs, Profiler, CSI), many students express an interesting and ask questions about criminal profiling, which may be described as a criminal investigative technique based, in part, on psychological expertise and knowledge. In reality, few law enforcement agencies employ such techniques and there is little call for such professionals. Those interested in such work should consider a career in law enforcement instead of clinicalforensic psychology.
The Behavioral Sciences Unit of the FBI does employ a few FBI agents who engage in this activity. The FBI makes a distinction between mental health and law enforcement: FBI agents are law enforcement professionals, not mental health professionals. In order to work as a profiler, or with the FBI in any other role, it is necessary to become an FBI agent. Experience in criminal investigation is needed before an agent can even be considered for a profiling position, but only a small number of agents ever become profilers. Since this would be a difficult goal to achieve, the FBI encourages prospective applicants who are interested in being special agents to do so because they are interested in the range of opportunities available with the FBI, not because they want to be a profiler.
Source: Excerpt from American Psychology-Law Society website:


Forensic psychology can be conceptualized as encompassing both sides of the justice system (civil and criminal) as well as two broad aspects of psychology (clinical and experimental). It would seem that defining forensic psychology should be a straightforward task. Alas, this is not the case, and the difficulty stems from the fact that the professionals who work in forensic psychology come from a wide range of graduate and professional backgrounds. Some have degrees in clinical or counseling psychology; others have graduate training in other areas of psychology such as social, developmental, cognitive, or neuropsychology. Others have backgrounds in law, some with degrees in both psychology and law. The nature of their contributions to forensic psychology also varies. One central issue in defining forensic psychology is that forensic psychologists can work both within and outside the legal system. Some psychologists provide direct services to the court through assessments of issues such as competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, or child custody. Others are researchers, typically based in universities, who conduct basic or applied research on such topics as eyewitness behavior or jury decision making. Still others combine both research and clinical practice. This potential for working both within and outside the legal system has led Haney (1980) to comment, “Psychologists have been slow to decide whether they want to stand outside the system to study, critique, and change it, or to embrace and be employed by it. And the law has been tentative in deciding how it will use and grant access to psychologists” (p. 152).
For these reasons, it has been difficult to arrive at a definition that encompasses all of these professional backgrounds and varied roles. Table 1.1 shows a sample of definitions that various individuals and organizations have proposed. Some, like the one used by Goldstein, use broad definitions that attempt to encompass all of the backgrounds and roles described here, and distinguish the research and practice contributions. Others, such as those used by the American Psychological Association or the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists (Committee on Ethical Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists, 1991), focus more on the applied roles of psychologists as providers of expertise to the legal system.
The conflicts involved in arriving at a definition of forensic psychology was the subject of Professor Jack Brigham’s 1999 presidential address to the American Psychology-Law Society. He posed the question, “What is forensic psychology, any way?” His answer reflects the conflicts about clinical and nonclinical participants in forensic psychology:
To return to my original question about what is forensic psychology, I believe that there are two levels of classification that yield two sets of definitions. At the level of ethical guidelines and professional responsibility, the broad definition fits best. Any psychologist (clinical, social, cognitive, developmental, etc.) who works within the legal system is a forensic psychologist in this sense, and the same high ethical and professional standards should apply to all. When it comes to how the legal system and the public conceptualize forensic psychology, however, there is a definite clinical flavor. The clinical/nonclinical distinction is a meaningful one, I believe. For example, educational, training, and licensing issues that are pertinent to clinical forensic psychologists may be irrelevant or inapplicable to nonclinical forensic psychologists. Further, clinicians and nonclinicians differ in their orientation to the legal process and in the role that they are likely to play in the courtroom (e.g., individual assessments vs. research-based social fact evidence). So there you have it—two varieties of forensic psychologists, clinical and nonclinical. (Brigham, 1999, p. 295)
It is of note that some graduate programs use both narrow and broad definitions to define their program. John Jay College, which has MA and PhD programs in forensic psychology, states that “In developing this program, both the broader and narrower definitions of forensic psychology are recognized. The core curriculum in the doctoral program is clinically focused. The broader definition is encompassed in non-clinical elective courses in the program and in an Interdisciplinary Concentration in Psychology and Law available to CUNY Psychology doctoral students who are interested in forensic psychology but whose interests do not require clinical training” (retrieved from, July 18, 2007). (As this book goes to press, a second track to John Jay’s doctoral program has been added. This track focuses on experimental psychology and law.)
Table 1.1 Definitions of Forensic Psychology
American Board of Forensic Psychology (2007) Forensic psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. The word forensic comes from the Latin word forensis, meaning “of the forum,” where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today, forensic refers to the application of scientific principles and practices to the adversary process in which specially knowledgeable scientists play a role (
American Psychological Association (2001) Forensic psychology is the professional practice by psychologists who foreseeably and regularly provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system. Such professional practice is generally within the areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology, or other applied areas within psychology involving the delivery of human services, by psychologists who have additional expertise in law and the application of applied psychology to legal proceedings (
Goldstein (2003) Goldstein “considers forensic psychology to be a field that involves the application of psychological research, theory, practice, and traditional specialized methodology (e.g., interviewing, psychological testing, forensic assessment, and forensically relevant instruments) to a legal question” (p. 4). Goldstein fur...


Zitierstile fĂŒr Forensic Psychology and Law

APA 6 Citation

Roesch, R., Zapf, P., & Hart, S. (2009). Forensic Psychology and Law (1st ed.). Wiley. Retrieved from (Original work published 2009)

Chicago Citation

Roesch, Ronald, Patricia Zapf, and Stephen Hart. (2009) 2009. Forensic Psychology and Law. 1st ed. Wiley.

Harvard Citation

Roesch, R., Zapf, P. and Hart, S. (2009) Forensic Psychology and Law. 1st edn. Wiley. Available at: (Accessed: 14 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Roesch, Ronald, Patricia Zapf, and Stephen Hart. Forensic Psychology and Law. 1st ed. Wiley, 2009. Web. 14 Oct. 2022.