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Forensic Psychology Midterm

Terms in this set (110)

Clinical psychological evaluations in child custody or criminal cases
Social psychological consultation on jury selection or pretrial publicity effects
Working with law enforcement officials
Expert witness
Advising legislators on public policy
In general, doing things that people might not expect
Trial consultant- assess the attitudes of people role-playing as jurors in a trial in order to identify issues perceived by the actual trial jurors; they assemble attitude questions based on psychological concepts that may influence the mock jurors who have observed a rehearsal of the trial
Trial consultants may be asked to conduct surveys to determine the extent and nature of pretrial publicity in a case
A forensic psychologist who does court-ordered child custody or criminally related evaluations, or who works in a prison or with law enforcement, will come from a background in clinical psychology and is likely to have had a more diversified clinical practice before he or she came to focus on forensic psychology
Other forensic psychologists specialize in eyewitness reliability and the factors that affect it, or trial consultants who work with attorneys on issues related to jury selection or pretrial publicity effects, may have been trained as experimental psychologists, social psychologists, cognitive psychologists, or developmental psychologists
For many psychologists, "forensic psychology" is seen as a subspecialization of clinical psychology
Honest disagreements exists over how encompassing the definition should be.
Munsterberg- On the Witness Stand (1908)
Founder of forensic psychology
Book focused on memory distortions, eyewitness accuracy, confessions, suggestibility, hypnosis, crime detection, and the prevention of crime
Defined topics for contemporary forensic psychology
Raised the psychological profession to a position of importance in public life
Saw no difference between physical sciences and psychology
Munsterberg was a less than ideal symbol, he was arrogant and pugnacious, and he engaged in self-important posturing
Munsterberg's Values:
The jury system rests on a positive assumption about human nature- that a collection of reasonable people are able to judge the world about them reasonably accurately.
The justice system "recruits a group of 12 lay [people], chosen at random from the widest population; it convenes them for the purpose of a particular trial; it entrusts them with great official powers of decision; it permits them to carry out deliberations in secret and report out their final judgment without giving reasons for it; and, after their momentary service to the state has been completed, it orders them to disband and return to private life."
Our society values the rights of the accused; it protects suspects against self-incrimination and places the burden of proof on the state to show guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Munsterberg desired 3 things:
Demonstrate the fallibility of memory, including time overestimation, omission of significant information, and other errors.
To promote experimental psychology and give attention to its possible service for the practical needs of life
Offer testimony as an expert witness in highly publicized trials
Munsterberg firmly believe that one of psychology's strongest contributions was in distinguishing false memory from true
However, it was said of Munsterberg that he "deceived himself with alarming frequency, and his distortions in certain cases bordered on outright falsification."
Laws and Values:
Laws are human creations that evolve out of the need to resolve disagreements
Laws reflect values, and values are basic psychological concepts
Values may be defined as standards for decision making, and thus, laws are created, amended, or discarded because society has established standards for what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Society's values can change, leading to new laws and new interpretations of existing laws (e.g. prohibition of spousal rape)
Each discipline approaches the generation of knowledge and the standards for decision making in a different way.
An attorney and a social scientist will often see the same event through different perspectives, because of their specialized training.
Some lawyers rely on psychologists to help plan effective trial tactics, and many courts now accept psychologists as expert witnesses on a variety of topics.
Some obstacles stand in the way of full application, and many of these obstacles are at the most basic level- the level of values and goals
Determining "Truth"
The most fundamental conflict arises from the nature of truth (the most elusive and challenging quest).
You know something is true by looking at the evidence. Yet evidence is different for psychology and for law.
Psychologists answer questions about human behavior by collecting data. A conclusion about behavior is not accepted by psychologists until the observations are objectively measurable (meaning they show reliability and replicability).
Lawyers are more willing to rely on their own experience, their own views of life, and their intuition (gut feelings). The Supreme Court tends to "approve legal rules based on intuitive assumptions about human behavior that research by psychologists has shown to be erroneous."
Determining "Truth"
For the police officer, personal observation is a strong determinant of the truth. Police take pride in their ability to detect deception and their interrogative skills as ways of separating truth-telling from falsification.
Police are willing to use a broader number of methods to determine truth than are psychologists
Determining "Truth"
Within the courtroom, for some attorney, truth may be irrelevant.
For more judges and trial attorneys, the assumption is that the adversary system will produce truths or at least fairness.
"A fair trial is one in which the evidence [is] subject to adversarial testing." (Strickland v. Washington, 1984)
The nature of the adversary system leads some trial attorneys to value conflict resolution over the elusive quest for truth.
Trials are not conducted to find out what happened- the police, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney all probably know what happened- but as a game to persuade the community that proof is strong enough to justify punishment.
"The law assumes that truth emerges from the clash of adversaries in the courtroom. The law assumes that: Uneven skills of counsel do not exist; bias doesn't influence the decision-maker; evidence can be clearly presented... Right and morality are irrelevant. Personal convictions are irrelevant. Only 'truth' produced through trial is relevant. 'Truth' for the law is a legal construct which relates to facts as they emerge at trial. 'Truth' does not necessarily coincide with reality." (quoted by psychotherapist Martha Deed, 1991 as stated by Paul Birzon president of NY State Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers)
The nature of reality
The psychological field assumes that the world is composed of separable variables that act independently of, or interactive with, other variables. It is also more tolerant of ambiguity than is the legal field.
Much of psychology is "probabilistic" for several reasons
Psychology assumes that people think in terms of probabilities and likelihoods
The courts, lawyers, and people in general may well think in yes-or-no, right-or-wrong categories.
The nature of reality
The lay public tends to misunderstand probabilities an their difficulties in applying probabilistic reasoning.
Ex: the "gambler's fallacy" and ignorance of regression-to-the-mean effects and failure to pay attention to base rates.
In our legal system, proof is based "on showing direct cause and effect: that is action A caused (or at least contributed to) result B"
Psychologists are more concerned with the probability that A is related to B
aka litigation consultant, or jury consultant
Some trial consultants have doctoral degrees, some have master's degrees, and some have bachelor's degrees.
Not a single state licenses or certifies trial consultants, so anyone with any level of training can hang up a shingle and proclaim themselves a "trial consultant."
A firm of trial consultants (might be a single consultant with a small support staff) is hired by a law firm to assist in identifying the major issues in a case, determine if there has been excessive pretrial publicity in the case, prepare witnesses for trial, and advise in jury selection.
Trial consultants also may participate in continuing education seminars offered to improve lawyers' negotiation, jury selection, and trial presentation skills.
Typically only involved in large civil trials.
Conflicts may arise between trial consultants and their employer-attorneys
Consultants must always remember that they are employed by the attorneys, and thus it is the attorneys who are ultimately responsible for making decisions involving the case
The applied scientist plus businessperson role makes for challenging ethical responsibilities.
Consultants must follow the standard guidelines for ethical research
Furthermore, the consultant has the moral responsibility not to break the law, even if the consultant's clients wishes it.
Consultants should not suggest that their services will inevitably help win a case for their client, because many events can intervene between preparation for the trial and the jury verdict
Remember that a fundamental principle within the scientific community is the sharing of data and ideas.
Confidentiality is a particular concern for trial consultants, who must avoid unreasonable intrusion into the private lives of others, including members of focus groups or mock juries.
Trial consultants have a duty to recognize that all information about a particular case remains private and confidential
A conflict arises when the results of surveys are presented at court and a judge wants the names of the interviewees and proof that subjects were interviewed and that the results are an accurate representations of the responses.
The National Jury Project explained that when its policy on confidentiality is fully explained in court, the results are never rejected.
Forensic psychologists, for various reasons, may exceed what is acceptable in their profession and even what the law theoretically permits them to do.
Promising too much
Sometimes forensic psychologists who are hired by attorneys or the courts promise a level of success they cannot guarantee
Psychologists who have developed tests and other instruments may be tempted to claim a greater level of validity than is warranted in real-life situations
Substituting advocacy for scientific objectivity
When psychologists become expert witnesses, they are usually hired by one side in an adversarial proceeding
It is tempting to play the advocate role, to take sides, to become sympathetic to the arguments of the side that is paying the psychologist, and to "slant" the testimony in that direction. The shift toward partisanship may be subtle, even unconscious
Many people, including some judges, see the expert witness as a hired gun, willing to say whatever his or her client needs said.
The proper role for a psychologist as an expert witness is that of an objective scientist who reports all the data, even if they make a less supportive case for the side that hired the psychologist
Letting values overcome empirical findings
The temptation is to let our values determine our scientific conclusions in a court of law
A psychologist serving as an expert witness may go beyond any legitimate scientific basis in offering conclusions
Example: I Barefoot v. Estelle (1983) the Supreme Court opinion showed that two psychiatrists went beyond the available research on predicting dangerousness by testifying that they knew (to 100% certainty) that the defendant would commit crimes in the future.
Dr James Grigson, one of the psychiatrists, was expelled from the American Psychiatric Association for his testimony in this and many other Texas death penalty cases.
Doing a cursory job
Because a person cannot be executed unless her or she is capable of understanding the implications of the act, competency hearings are held
Competency hearings evaluate whether an individual has the mental capacity to understand the nature of the death penalty and the reasons why it had been imposed on the individual.
There is a temptation to be less than thorough and professional in one's work for the courts or other authorities
Criminal profiles aid in detection and prevention
A profiler is one "who examines evidence from the crime scene, victims, and witnesses in an attempt to construct an accurate psychological (usually concerning psychopathology, personality, and behavior) and demographic description of the individual who committed the crime."
A criminal profile includes the personality and motivations of the offender, including characteristic ways of committing crimes and treating the victims. Physical characteristics are also important.
The handedness of the perpetrator is easily determined from an analysis of the criminal act.
The term sociopsychological profile is preferred over psychological profile
For centuries, elements of society have tried to pinpoint those physical or psychological qualities linked to criminal or deviant behavior
Criminal profiling has been described as an educated attempt to provide specific information about a certain type of suspect and as a biographical sketch of behavioral patterns, trends, and tendencies
The basic premise of criminal profiling is that the way a person thinks directs the person's behavior; it is important to recognize that profiling does not provide the specific identity of the offender.
A single act of murder, especially if it is spontaneous, is more difficult to interpret than is a series of crimes that reflect similar actions or locations
Other nonviolent crimes are not good candidates for profiling
Consistencies in crime scenes and treatment of victims permit the police to get a better handle on the nature of the perpetrator.
The nature of a victim's wounds might give clues to the personality and experience of the attacker. Some serial killers are aware of the "trace" they leave at a crime scene or even do so intentionally.
Physiological measures do not directly measure lying; their changes only reflect shifts in emotional reactivity.
Thus, any conclusion about lying is an inference
The Control Questions Technique (CQT) typically consist of about 10 questions
Relevant questions deal with the issue at hand; control questions deal with possible past behaviors that might generate emotion on the subject's part
The Relevant-Irrelevant Test was the first widely used polygraph test of deception
The relevant questions are similar in form and content to the relevant questions in the control question procedure, but the irrelevant questions reflect a different type and are innocuous.
Scoring: a value of 0 is assigned to comparisons where no difference is observed, 1 to a noticeable difference, 2 to a strong difference, and 3 to a dramatic difference.
These scores are based on a visual inspection of graphic data, there is certainly room for error.
The CQT leads to ore false positives (classifying truthful people as liars) than false negatives (classifying liars and truthful).
The lie detector is stressful and examiners often rely on deceit to convince the subject that the test is accurate
The Military Rule of Evidence 707 made the results of polygraph tests inadmissible in all military courts-martial.
Scientists and legal experts are in dispute about the reliability of polygraph results
"Fooling the Polygraph"
Suppress physiological responses to relevant questions
Augment physiological response to control questions, thereby increasing the baseline measure of the subject's emotional response
Suppress the overall level of physiological activity by taking drugs
Use mental rather than physical countermeasures because they cannot be detected by observation or even sensitive equipment
Deception-motivated subjects can think of emotionally arousing thoughts while being asked the emotional-baseline-generating questions.
The ultimate issue is legal insanity
The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 modified federal law specifically to prohibit mental health experts from testifying about ultimate legal issues.
The Federal Rule of Evidence 704(b) states that "no expert witness testifying with respect to the mental state or condition of the defendant in a criminal case may state an opinion or inference as to whether the defendant did or did not have the mental state or condition constituting an element of the crime charged or of the defense thereto. Such ultimate issues are matters for the trier of fact alone."
This led to confusion in the federal courts. Supposedly, the expert could describe a defendant's mental condition and the effects it could have had on his or her thinking and behavioral control, but the expert could not state conclusions about whether the defendant was sane or insane. Some commentators have stated that this exclusion may lead to the omission from the trial of clinical information relevant to the case.
Ogloff et al. (1993) stated "if the revised rule were applied strictly, an expert could not testify as to whether a given defendant was legally sane or insane and whether he or she had a 'mental disease,' 'intended' to do great bodily harm, 'knew' the probable consequences of his or her act, 'knew' what he or she was doing, 'appreciated' the criminality of his or her conduct, and so forth. Yet the same expert is literally being asked by the courts to give testimony that bears directly on such psychological constructs."
A syndrome is defined as a set of symptoms that may exist together, such that they may be considered to imply a disorder or disease. Not all symptoms have to exist in every subject, and, in fact, the criteria for how many must be present are unclear.
Burgess and Holmstrom (1974) coined the term rape trauma syndrome (RTS)
Self-reports by those raped, descriptions by psychotherapists and trained social-service workers, and reactions by friends and family of those who had been attacked- showed great uniformity of responses.
It should be noted that not all survivors suffer from the same severity of symptoms
Each person who has been raped has a different story to tell, but they all share reactions of personal intrusion and lifelong impact.
An ecological model of response to having been raped emphasized that a variety of personal, event, and environmental factors could influence the recovery from a sexual assault.
Person variable (age and developmental stage of the victim); relationship to the offender; ability of the victim to identify and make use of available social support; the meaning that is assigned to the traumatic event by the victim by family and friends, police, medical personnel, and victim advocates with whom the victim has had contact in the immediate aftermath of trauma
Event variables including frequency, severity, and duration of the traumatic event(s) and the degree of physical violence, personal violation, and life-threats endured by the victim.
Environmental variables such as degree of safety and control; prevailing community attitudes and values about sexual assault; availability, quality, accessibility, and diversity of victim care and victim advocacy services.
RTS has two phases, an acute crisis phase and a long-term reactions phase
The first phase may contain reactions that last for days or weeks, and these are likely to be quite severe. They can affect all aspects of the survivor's life, including physical, psychological, social, and sexual aspects.
The second phase is a reconstructive one and includes survivors' coming to terms with their reactions and attempting to deal with the hurt and sadness in an effective way.
Phase 1: Acute Crisis Phase
The acute crisis phase is one of much disorganization in the survivor's lifestyle; it is often described by survivors as a state of shock, in which they report that everything has fallen apart inside. Many reexperience the attack over and over again in their minds, have nightmares.
Those who are raped in their own beds are particularly affected by insomnia.
96% reported feeling scared, anxious and worried 2-3 hours after the rape
92% said they were terrified and confused. That thoughts were racing 2-3 hours after the rape.
Other reactions immediately following the rape included: shaking or trembling, racing heart, pain, tight muscles, rapid breathing, numbness.
Acute crisis phase contd
Nearly half of rape survivors scored as moderately or severely depressed on the BDI.
19% attempted suicide
The person's previous sense of invulnerability dissipates in a decrease of self-esteem
Phase one reactions also include:
Denial, shock and disbelief- survivors may question their family and friends about how the rape could have happened
Disruption- changes in sleeping an eating patterns are typical. Personality may disorganize
Guilt, hostility, blame- others may react by blaming the victim, or by assuming that the rape could have been avoided or otherwise attributing responsibility for having been raped to the person who was raped. Victims, too, respond with guilt and self-blame.
The self-blaming response may be the second most frequent one after fear. Survivors blame their own actions for the rape, or at least imply that different behaviors on their part could have avoided it.
Self-blame can be so strong that the victim believes the rape was their fault or that the man cared for them. Cases are reported of survivors who even married the men who raped them.
Other survivors may direct their aggression and blame at men in general, or at society for permitting sexual assaults to occur.
Only 56% assigned blame to the rapist
Acute phase contd
Regression to a state of helplessness or dependency: People who have been raped often report the feeling that they no longer are independent individuals
Feelings that they no longer have control over their lives and what happens to them
Distorted perceptions: distrust and pessimism- even paranoia- are frequent reactions to being the recipient or a sexual assault
41% of those college students who were acquaintance-rape survivors believed that they would be raped again.
Phase II: Long-Term Reactions
In the second phase, survivors face the task of restoring order to their lives and reestablishing a sense of equilibrium and the feeling of mastery over their world
Most of the improvement occurs somewhere between one and three months after the rape, but only 20-25% of survivors reported no symptoms one year after the attack
25% of the women researched had not significantly recovered several years after the rape.
Responses that may reoccur are specific anxieties; guilt and shame; catastrophic fantasies; feelings of dirtiness, helplessness, or isolation; and physical symptoms
Long-Term Reactions contd
Cognitive development may be impeded
It is not uncommon to experience contradictory feelings; fear, sadness, guilt, and anger all at the same time
Major symptoms of the second phase:
Phobias and other manifestations of fear and anxiety.
a rape can be viewed as a classical conditioning stimulus, and thus anything associated with the rape will come to be feared
Stimulus generalization
The nature of the conditional associations to the rape leads victims to alter their lives in many ways
Disturbances in general functioning: carrying out routine aspects of life is often a challenge during the second phase.
Changes in eating patterns and sleeping patterns remain a problem
The quality of intimate relationships may deteriorate
Sexual problems: Rape has a strong negative effect on the survivor's sexual life
Rape survivors reported that they did not enjoy sex with their partner as much as they had before they were raped, and this level of satisfaction was not as every type of intimate relationship
Rape survivors reported less desire to engage in sexual activity
Changes in lifestyle: some survivors of a sexual assault may restructure their activities and change their jobs and their appearance
Changing their phone numbers is typical. Moving to another residence or another city is not unusual
When a person reported having been raped and becomes a witness in a criminal trial against her or his alleged attacker, one task for a forensic clinical psychologist is an assessment of the survivor's claims and responses
At the trial, a forensic psychologist can be called on to testify about the presence of the rape trauma syndrome in order to support the survivor's claim of rape, especially if there is no corroborating evidence to support the claim
Documenting the survivor's level of psychological, social, and physical functioning both before and after the sexual assault
Assessing the survivor's changes in identity, including loss of self-esteem and dignity, increased difficulty in decision making, and changes in feeling about her appearance
Interviewing the survivor and administering self-report measures to determine the presence of phobias as well as generalized and specific fears
Determining social adjustment, level of sexual functioning, and coping mechanisms, and identifying other stressors around the time of the rape
Interviewing others to corroborate the survivor's report, as well as obtaining their evaluations of the survivor's truth telling
Determining if the survivor has experienced previous sexual assaults
Psychologists need to exercise great care in the way they question rape survivors
Survivors often are reluctant to disclose or describe the assault and give them support when interviewing them
Assessment Measures
Sexual Assault Symptoms Scale
Clinical Trauma Assessment
Rape Trauma Syndrome Rating Scale
Impact of Event Scale, or IES
Testimony as an Expert Witness
One justification for the testimony of a psychologist as an expert witness in a rape trial is that jurors do not fully understand the nature of rape; they may misinterpret the reactions of the survivor, and they may believe a number of rape myths, or incorrect assumptions about the causes and consequences of rape
A number of specific MYTHS abound:
Women cannot be raped against their will
Women secretly wish to be raped
Most accusations of rape are faked
Specific knowledge about the rape trauma syndrome is often lacking
Laypersons were not well informed on many relevant issues
Most rapes are acquaintance rapes, not rapes by strangers
The jury is essentially is faced with answering the question: "Who do you believe?"
On the issue of consent or lack of consent
Is a complainant's behavior consistent with having been raped?
The most accepted use of RTS in rape prosecutions was through expert testimony, presented by the prosecution, in order to demonstrate that the alleged victim's behavior was consistent with that of victims in general
Trauma in the survivor serves as evidence of a lack of consent
State v. Marks (1982)- the prosecution introduced the expert testimony of a forensic psychologist who had examined the survivor two weeks after the encounter and concluded "that she was suffering from the PTSD known as rape trauma syndrome."
The defendant was convicted
Questions about the Behavior of the Alleged Victim
Survivors may delay in reporting the attack; when they testify, they may make inconsistent statements or reflect a lack of memory
The defense attorney may use these behaviors to attack the credibility of the alleged victim
The psychologist as witness may educate the jury about the real reactions and feelings of rape survivors as well as disabusing them of misconceptions
The expert would testify as a rebuttal witness, after the survivor's credibility has been challenged, either on cross-examination or during the defense's direct examination
In a civil suit to support a claim of damages
On occasion, a survivor may sue an alleged attacker in a civil action to recover damages, or a third party may be sued for failure to provide protection
As a defense for culpable behavior by a rape survivor
What if a woman feared for her life when she later encountered the man who had raped her, and thus attempted to murder him?
People v. Mathews (1979) the defendant's claim was that she was suffering from RTS which was supported by expert testimony, and she was acquitted of the charge of attempted murder
In not all cases has the testimony about the common aftereffects of rape been admitted
Appellate courts have sometimes concluded that the RTS is unreliable, prejudicial, or unhelpful to the jury
Particular courts concluded:
Psychologists cannot accurately determine whether a rape occurred
The testimony would improperly bolster the testimony against the defendant
The testimony is not beyond the common knowledge of the jury
Testimony about RTS is different in that its use- by the prosecution- to show that the behavior (i.e. the rape) actually occurred.
The Kansas Supreme Court held that only psychiatrist could testify about a diagnosis of RTS or PTSD
Sometimes the courts have placed limits on the use of RTS testimony
The purpose of the testimony is crucial with regard to decisions about its admissibility
"in every case in which the testimony has been found to be scientifically unreliable, it is because the court has ruled that the testimony cannot reliably determine, or prove, that a rape occurred... In contrast, courts that have found the testimony reliable focus on whether RTS is a generally accepted response to sexual assault.
The Daubert case requires that in order admitted, scientific evidence must meet standards of reliability
This may reduce the willingness of some trial judges to admit testimony about the existence of the rape trauma syndrome
Recent research has established that "rape victims experience more depression, anxiety, fear, and social adjustment problems than women who have not been victimized... [and] that may victims experience PTSD symptoms following an assault."
At the same time, experts needs to be careful to limit their testimony to verifiable statements
Two central questions:
What symptoms do rape victims experience?
Do rape victims differ in their set of symptoms from those who are not victims?
Depression- one of the most commonly reported symptoms
Fear- one study fond that recent rape victims were more fearful than victims of other crimes. Duration of the fear was unclear
Anxiety- Difficulties in concentrating and avoidance of certain situations because of anxiety were present ore often in rape victims than in nonvictims, for at least a year after the rape.
82% of rape victims met criteria for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder
Once a couple decides to divorce, they face the task of determining custody of the children.
If the patents cannot agree on custody, a court may order mediation:
More informal and court personnel and adversarial lawyers are not present
Sessions are usually held in private, and the proceedings are confidential
Participants in mediation are more satisfied with the process and the outcome than are parents who use the courts
Cases are settled more quickly than if they were to go through court
Psychologists as well as attorneys have become mediators in a variety of disputes
The mediator's job is to try to help the parties resolve their differences through an agreement.
The mediator explores options with the couple and provides a safe environment for communication; many mediators believe confidentiality to be necessary if the mediation is to succeed.
Mediators seek agreements about plans for the children that can be put in writing, even though mediators do not have the power to enforce binding rulings
Each parent must agree to cooperate with the other parent in raising the children, regardless of his or her feelings about the other parent
Psychologists can facilitate the realization of several benefits through mediation.
Distinguish between demands and needs
Discuss how property will be divided, how custody will be structured, and how visitations will be implemented
Increase the emotional acceptance of divorce by the two parties
Achieve an atmosphere that helps the former spouses to establish a new working relationship that is essential for the coparenting of their children
Achieving the goals of mediation becomes more challenging when one parent is passive and not standing up for his or her parental rights
The mediator cannot become and advocate for one side
Mediation is not necessarily beneficial
"Mediation- especially when conducted in a high-conflict divorce- may actually increase the strength of association between parental and child problems" (Melton, et al., 1997).
When custody of children surfaces as an issue in a divorce case, and the matter cannot be settled through mediation, the presiding judge will sometimes ask a clinical or counseling psychologist to serve as a court-appointed evaluator to make an evaluation and then a recommendation of the best custody arrangement
"Clinical impressions about alliances and conflicts within the family and heir bases might present judges with a useful framework for consideration of which child goes where (Melton et al., 1997)"
Thus, if appointed to do a custody evaluation, the psychologist must approach the task "unburdened by any particular point of view or preset conclusions" (Schutz et al., 1989)
The prime duty of the evaluator is to investigate , to gather facts for the judge; the clinical or counseling psychologist's strength is "talking with children and families under the stress and gathering information from diverse sources about the life of the family" (Melton et al., 1997)
The psychologist as evaluator then prepares a report for the judge; in some jurisdictions-but not all; copies of the report are available to the attorneys for each parent, and, in some jurisdictions, even family members get copies.
Reports should include:
Focus on the issues and problems of the family
Be credible, well-reasoned, clear, and thoughtful
Be fair, balanced, and neutral, avoiding advocacy of one parent and accentuating positives when possible
Avoid jargon and diagnosis, yet remain behaviorally focused
Contain recommendations that are focused and that clearly flow from the material in the report
Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions about a child's life
Physical custody refers to where the child resides on a day-to-day basis
Sole custody arrangement- one parent obtains both legal and physical custody, with visitation by the other parent
Joint custody or shared custody arrangement- legal custody is shared, with one parent typically being designated as the primary residential parent for purposes of physical custody
Divided custody refers to the situation in which one parent gains sole custody of one or more of the children, and the other parent gains sole custody of any other(s)
Although many would assume that joint or shared parenting is always a better arrangement for the children, the research does no support such a conclusion. Instead, the research shows that children do best with parents who can work together and cooperate, regardless of the custody arrangements.
Joint custody arrangements are best when voluntarily chosen. If they are mandated by courts, joint custody arrangements can be detrimental to a child's post-divorce adjustment.
Effects of Type of Custody
The most consistent innovation by the courts regarding divorce in the last 3 decades is joint custody
In some recent statutes, such custody must be ordered by the judge unless the evidence exists that such an arrangement would be harmful to the child
But definitions of joint-custody differ widely from state to state.
In some instances, the amount of time the child is in the physical custody of each parent is split relatively equally; in other instances, the child lives mainly with one parent, but both parents retain legal decision making with respect to the child's education, health, and welfare
Joint legal custody does not necessarily mean shared physical custody
Fathers who continued to share custody of their children were more likely to make child-support payments and coparenting reduced the conflict between divorced parents
A child is treated as a distinct person and is to be accorded, by law, individual rights in the child custody proceedings.
In most states, child custody statutes give the judge the power to make custody decisions "as justice requires," generally using some version of the "best interests" test. Neither parent is now presumed to have a superior right to the child, according to current laws in most states
Section 402 of the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act, passed by Congress in 1970, describes the following as among the factors a judge may consider in reaching a custody decision:
The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
The child's adjustment to his or her home, school, and community
Each parent's ability to provide food, clothing, medication, and other remedial care and material benefits to the child
The interaction and interrelationship of the child with parents or other individuals who might affect the child's best interests (aka the parents' lifestyles)
The wishes of the parents and the wishes of the child
Is the best-interests standard present-oriented or future-oriented?
With respect to the child's preferences, the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act of 1970 directs judges to consider the child's wishes. All states now include this factor in their law
States specify an age, typically 12 or 14; others consider the maturity of the child's cognitive and emotional development
In re Marriage of Rosson (1986), the California court concluded that a child of sufficient age and capacity to reason well enough to form an intelligent custody preference has the right to have the preference seriously considered
Consensus is lacking about how much weight is to be given to the child's preferences, and sometimes the child's choice is considered only when other factors balance out the choice between parents
Courts have said with tedious regularity that the welfare of the child is the supreme goal to be obtained
Rarely is the child given the final choice in the exercise of his or her rights
"the person who conducts the lineup or photo spread should not be aware of which member of the lineup or photo spread is the suspect" (Wells et al., 1998)
Typically, the detective who has handled the case administers the lineup. The problem is that this officer, knowing who is the suspect, may communicate this knowledge, even without intending to do so.
Some detectives are not reluctant to tell witnesses when their choices identified the suspect. If a double-blind procedure is used, in which the lineup administrator is unaware of the "correct" answer, neither subtle nor overt communication would be made, and a purer estimate of the accuracy of the witness's memory and his or her confidence level could be determined
"eyewitnesses should be told explicitly that the perpetrator might not be in the lineup or photo spread and therefore eyewitnesses should not feel that they must make an identification. They should be told that the person administering the lineup does not know which person is the suspect in the case." (Wells et al., 1998)
Thus, it is essential for the investigator to emphasize that the culprit might not be in the photo array or lineup, by means of an instruction that states clearly that the perpetrator "may or may not be in the set of photos you are about to view."
Explicit warnings significantly reduce the rates of incorrect identifications when the offender is not in the lineup.
"The suspect should not stand out in the lineup or photo array as being different from the distracters based on the eyewitness's previous description of the culprit or based on other factors that would draw extra attention to the suspect." (Wells et al., 1998)
Distracters should be selected to match the description of the criminal given by the witness

"A clear statement should be taken from the eyewitness at the time of the identification and prior to any feedback as to his or her confidence that the identified person is the actual culprit." (Wells et al., 1998)
Repeated questioning by authorities may increase the confidence of the witness's answers
The initial levels of confidence should be recorded
The identification process (especially the lineup and the interaction between the detective and the witness) should be videotaped, so that attorneys, the judge, and the jury can later assess for themselves whether the reports of the procedure by police are accurate,
A recent N. Carolina statute requires the recording of identification procedures, and a 2006 New Jersey court ruling requires the same in the state.
One additional rule not included in Wells et al (1998), but strongly advised is that "scientific research indicates that identification procedures such as lineups and photo arrays produce more reliable evidence when the individual lineup members or photographs are shown to the witness sequentially- one at a time- rather than simultaneously." (Technical Working Group on Eyewitness Evidence, 1999)
Standard police lineups have traditionally used simultaneous procedures. However, under those conditions, eyewitnesses tend to compare lineup members to each other to determine which one most closely resembles their memory of the perpetrator (relative judgment)
Sequential presentation reduces or eliminates relative judgment by essentially forcing the witness to use an absolute criterion on each picture (yes or no) before seeing the next one.
This sequential presentation technique has been shown to reduce the rate of false alarms with little effect on correct identification rates.
U.S. Dept of Justice: Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement