The Role Of Forensic Psychology In Criminal Investigation

Forensic psychology is a very interesting field of study if someone wanted to dive into a criminal’s mind and investigate their mental stability to stand trial. The definition of forensic psychology according to the American Psychological Association is “the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena.” During court cases, a psychologist will be permitted to interview the criminal and determine if he/she was mentality stable at the time of the crime. In some states, if a person was not in the right mind at the time of the crime and does not recognize what he/ she done wrong, the case will be determined as a insanity case and be thrown out. Only a forensic psychologist can be the person to determine if the criminal was not in the right mind at that time. Many lawyers try to get their defendants the insanity plead and most of them get turned down by the jury.

In August 2007, John Couey was arrested for kidnapping, raping, and burying Jessica Lunsford. His attorney try to get the judge to rule it insanity, since his IQ was below 70 and he had always been mentally abused. The jury wanted him to be executed and not just have a life sentence. After the defense lawyers had pleaded for mercy saying that Couey had mental retardation and neglect as a child, a psychologist by the name of Harry McClaren was brought in to do interviews on Couey and his peers. According to McClaren’s testimony, “Couey is able to adapt to day to day life despite any mental challenges.” When McClaren conducted interviews on Couey and his peers he found out that, Couey worked a factory and a construction job. In many minds, Construction jobs have very complex duties and safety requirements. If Couey, was able to do those duties with mental retardation than he would have known what was right or wrong when murdering Jessica Lunsford. After all the interviews were over, McClaren announced to the jury “In my opinion, he was able to function at a level higher than would be excepted of a person with mental retardation.” After the trial, Couey died in prison from having cancer.

In 2002, Andrea Yates was convicted on the charges of killing 3 of her 5 children. In the first trial she was found guilty for being legally sane during the times of the drowning. That ruling was overturned after Park Dietz M.D gave the incorrect testimony and Yates petitioned for a mistrial. This court case is one of the many unique insanity cases that has been documented. During the next trial, APA (American Psychiatric Association) Vice President Nada Stotland M.D. mentioned “It was heartbreaking that she was convicted in the first place”. Yates suffered from severe postpartum depression after each of her children were born. She had hallucinations, attempted suicide and also tried to harm her children more than once. She has always been in and out of mental institutions. During her trial, she had many psychologist testify for her saying she was not right in her mind during the time of the crimes. APA told the jury “Defendants whose crimes derive from their mental illness should be sent to a hospital and treated—not cast into a prison, much less onto death row”. Everyone knew she done the crime, but the court forensic psychologist knew she wasn’t in her right mind. The jury had the verdict as “innocent by insanity”. She was in a mental institution, than he insurance stopped paying for her treatment and she was left alone with the rest of her children.

In the court case involving Lisa Montgomery, she was found guilty on killing 8 month pregnant Bobbie Jo Stinnett. She tried to convince the jury and the judge that she was delusional and suffered from “Pseudocyesis”. This condition makes a woman think she is falsely pregnant and have signs of pregnancy. The jury didn’t believe her and seek the death penalty for Lisa. The News-Press mentioned “Three mental health experts, two hired by the defense, previously have testified that Ms. Montgomery suffered from a rare medical condition making her believe she was pregnant and that she killed Ms. Stinnett in a delusional state.” After hearing the experts on the defense side, the prosecution got their own psychologist. Forensic psychologist Dr. Park Dietz said “there is enough evidence from the killing to determine Ms. Montgomery knew she wasn't pregnant and therefore wasn't suffering from pseudocyesis.” Lisa had forged her sonograms and documents involving the pregnancy to make her peers believe that she was really pregnant. Dr. Dietz mentioned again “someone having delusions wouldn't need to reinforce the delusion by manufacturing “proof.” Lisa forged a letter about her pregnancy from her obstetrician to show her family to make it more believable. Her obstetrician told the court that he didn’t treat Lisa for a pregnancy, he treated her for an ankle injury. After the jury heard both sides of the counsel, they came to the verdict guilty and sentenced Lisa to death.

In 2014, Zakieya Avery was charged with killing her 2 youngest children while performing what she thought was an exorcism. Monifa Stanford, Avery’s friend was involved in the murders also. Zakieya’s defense told the court that she was not “criminally responsible” for her actions at the time of the murders. She had a past with mental illness and she thought at the time of the murders that it was the right thing to do for her children. A forensic psychiatric hospital had evaluated both Avery and Stanford, and came up with two different conclusions between the women. During Stanford’s examination the state doctors concluded that “she was delusional enough that her mental illness was so severe that it overran any ration thoughts”. Stanford went into the Perkins psychiatric hospital. The state examiner came to the conclusion that Avery was mentally component during the time of the crime, knowing that what she was doing was wrong. The courts judge, Terrence McGann, mentioned “I find that Ms. Avery’s ritualistic, albeit barbaric, attempt to rid her children of demons, is powerful evidence of her lack of rational thinking. The judge told the court she quit taking her “psychiatric medication” a month before the crimes because “god had cured her”. McGann said “ someday the defendant will be asking this court to release her from a psychiatric institution and if the only guarantee this court has that Ms. Avery wont slaughter other children in the future is her compliance with a strict regimen of anti-psychotic medication”. Zakieya was ruled criminally insane and sent to a maximum- security psychiatric hospital and not a prison.

In conclusion, forensic psychologist plays a big role in court cases, but mostly insanity cases. They have to give series of tests and interviews to the criminal themselves to see if they were mentally stable at the time of the crime and also at the time of the trial. They interview more than just the criminal, they have to ask questions about the criminal to their family and friends. This helps the psychologist determine if the criminal is able to fit into a society, hold a normal job, and make friends like everyone else. No one thinks about psychology when they think about a courtroom, but psychology plays a big role in the legal division. Most court cases are insanity court cases that have psychologist involved. Not everyone can just assume that if a person done something crazy by killing a person with a chainsaw is mentally instable at the time of the crime. A person may be completely sane when the crime occurs, but it takes an expert and a lot of time interviewing, a lot of people to come to that conclusion.   

16 December 2021
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