Forensic psychologists are frequently called to testify. Their testimony may include, for example, psychological evaluations of a defendant’s competency to stand trial or, in more general terms, a defendant’s mental health. Forensic psychologists may also be called to testify in a divorce case regarding which parent should be granted custody. There is frequently a clash between the expectations of the courts regarding the role of the forensic psychologist and the forensic psychologist’s willingness to draw firm conclusions.
Certain decisions are ultimately left for the court to decide. With whom should the child live? Was the defendant legally insane at the time he or she committed the crime? Is the defendant competent to stand trial? These questions are called ultimate issues. Although expert witnesses may provide testimony on these issues, only the courts can determine whether legal criteria have been met.
Many courts want forensic psychologists to testify in ultimate issue cases because the courts view these psychologists as experts in determining an individual’s mental health. On the other hand, forensic psychologists may not feel qualified to testify in an ultimate issue case because their area of expertise is psychology, not law.
Post a brief description of the controversy topic you were assigned. Then, explain why this topic is considered controversial. State your position on the controversy and explain on what facts/opinions you are basing that position. Finally, describe how someone might challenge your position.
What do you think? Should forensic psychologists offer their opinion in ultimate issue cases or not? Under what circumstances?
The prohibition of ultimate opinions: A misguided enterprise by Rogers, R., & Ewing, C. P. in Journal of Forensic Psychology Practice, 3(3). Copyright 2003 Taylor & Francis Informa UK Ltd. Journals. Used with permission from The Haworth Maltreatment & Trauma Press via the Copyright Clearance Center.
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