What exactly is...

LEGAL & FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY?

Court-Ordered Custody Evaluations

What recommendations should a court consider in making custody, visitation, and parenting plans, based on the "best interest of the child" standard? 

Custody evaluations are usually court ordered by the judge. A true custody evaluation requires contact with both parents. In other words, we cannot and will not evaluate one parent and make a custody recommendation. Custody evaluations must include both parents (or other guardians in question) as well as each child(ren). It generally falls to each party to cover the cost of their own evaluation. 

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Private Parental Evaluations

What strengths and limitations does a parent generally possess, and how do mental health issues (if any) affect parenting?

Unlike custody evaluations, which review each parent and each child, a private parental evaluation can be provided for only one parent. We assess the parent's mental health and personality profile, as well as their parenting strategies. We also consult with other individuals (school, day care, grandparents, etc.). The final report will not make a parenting and custody recommendations, but will discuss the traits of one particular parent. 

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Competency to Stand Trial

Does the defendant understand the nature and purpose of the legal proceedings, to the extent that she or he can cooperate with, and contribute to, their case?​

To answer this question, we create a unique battery of tests to aid us in our clinical opinions, along with a structured clinical interview. Several possible diagnoses can prevent a defendant from being competent to stand trial.  Sometimes, a defendant may understand trial, but be unable to participate in their own defense, inviting complications that are unique to CST issues.

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Mens-Rea / State of Mind / Intent

What evidence is available to best explain the defendants' state of mind during a particular alleged crime? Or, did the defendant have the ability to form the intent required for a given crime?

A psychologist - no matter how talented - is unable to know exactly what is in the mind of a defendant. However, there are ways to scientifically evaluate a defendant's truthfulness, and assess, to a reasonable medical certainty, what is likely. This information can be of extreme importance to a jury trying to make decisions between crimes that have an intent element included, and even some tort-related actions.

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Malingering

What evidence is available indicating that a defendant is faking (either fake-good or fake-bad) their condition? 

It's more than just a cool word to say. Malingering is to exaggerate or feign illness in order to escape duty, work, or in forensic cases, responsibility.  We often see this in cases where a defendant either fakes-good by trying to portray herself or himself in a more positive light than reality (not really malingering at all). Or in true malingering, the defendant is trying to look worse than they are. Why? To be found not guilty by reason of insanity, to win a large monetary judgement, or to escape conviction due to a loss of memory. There are highly sensitive tests that will pick up on malingering.  

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Polygraph Services (Contracted)

Are there physiological reactions to certain questions that may indicate a examinee is nervous?  Or: will an examinee be more honest when a polygraph is used?

Although "lie detector" has become a popular term, polygraph machines do not detect lies. Only ex-spouses can do that. What a polygraph can do, is detect nervousness and anxious reaction (or a lack-thereof) to a certain line of questioning. Polygraph results are not admissible in court (unless stipulated to by opposing counsel in some states), but can be used for other forensic purposes.

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Probation & Parole (Violence & Recidivism) 

To what extent has a defendant accepted responsibility? What is the likelihood for future violence and/or recidivism?  

A full psychological (and sometimes neuropsychological) evaluation can assist in determining an inmates disposition. When we do probation and parole evaluations, we conduct psychological testing to best understand what motivated their behavior. Only then can we conceptualize the likelihood of recidivism and potential for rehabilitation. We work with both juveniles and adults, and we can complete testing either at our office, at probation, or in the correctional facility. 

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Police & Public Service Evaluations

Does the clinical profile of a potential police officer (or public service member) raise any red flags or otherwise suggest that she or he may not be able to carry out their duties for mental health reasons? 

We certainly value law enforcement. Most of us have officers in our immediate families. However, we also recognize that sometimes mental health issues can complicate the immense amount of trust and guardianship we as a society place in our officers. Unfortunately, Texas psychologists have really dropped the ball in this arena by not properly testing officers. But not us. We take pride in our work with public officials! 

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Fitness for Duty

Has a given event caused any mental health issues that might interfere with an official's ability to perform her or his job?

These evaluations are similar to normal public service evaluations, but are usually prompted - or triggered - by some event that necessitates an evaluation. There's no denying that officers and other public officials are always at risk of trauma that many of us can't comprehend. As such, if there are issues preventing work, we'll recommend steps to get things back on track. We also perform MEPS-related psychological evaluations for hopeful military applicants who have been flagged for a psychological followup during their physical examination.

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LEGAL CONSULTATION NOT RELATED TO PATIENTS

Report Review & Explanation. Sometimes, an attorney may simply need our services, with no patient involvement at all. For example, we occasionally review the reports of another psychologists, and help the attorney better understand its contents. What are its strengths and weaknesses? Did the psychologist do a thorough examination? Did they properly interpret MMPI-2 results in conjunction with PAI or MACI results?  Did they neglect important neuropsychological deficits? Did they spend enough time? Did they do a half-ass job (you'd be surprised). We can provide a list of questions that attorneys may need to ask on both direct, cross, and re-direct.

Psychotherapy Treatment Review. We will also work with attorneys in medical malpractice cases or other instances where psychotherapy itself comes into question. We will provide this review and help explain the therapy roles of psychologists, LPCs, LMFTs, LCDCs, MSWs, nurse practitioners, and psychiatrists. For example, was the treatment approach evidence based? How does one even define "evidence based?" Can dynamic therapies (which are hard to study quantitatively) be evidenced based? Might an ethical violation have occurred? 

Legal Theory Review. If case has a substantial mental health component to it, we can assist in determining the best course(s) of action. Under which theory should a legal proceed, based on the mental health position? To be clear, we cannot practice law. We can only articulate the mental health aspects of each element to any given statute. We can also conduct focus groups to help you weight the pros and cons of one legal theory over another. Sometimes attorney's need help quantifying damages - particularly in tort claims that have a mental health component. 

Voir Dire. We can work either with attorneys-only, or with focus groups to help you determine what type of jurors will be most open to your chosen legal theory. Please understand that the trial sciences depicted in the TV-drama Bull, are extremely inaccurate. As such, please do not expect James Bond-esque biometrics and walls of flat panel computer monitors. Even though the show Bull, is mostly bull, there are some accuracies. Good jury consultants will help identify lead jurors and craft language designed to "reach" that/those jurors. 

Jury Relations & Mock Juries. Thought not always effective, a mock jury can sometimes help gauge how the trial is going, and help the legal team make strategic decisions. It is generally cost prohibitive. A more affordable alternative is to use a psychologist during the trial to provide feedback on the attorney's style, approach, demeanor.