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Forensic Evaluations and the Law

The most common uses of Forensic Evaluations in legal proceedings are:
 

  • Custody Cases
    When separated or divorcing parents dispute which parent should have custody of the children, forensic evaluations are usually done on both of the parents and on any other adults residing in the parents' homes, and on the children, if they are old enough. These reports typically play a key role in the court's decision on which parent should be given custody.
     
  • Criminal Cases
    In criminal cases, forensic evaluations are most often used for one of two purposes:
     1. to determine a defendant's competence to stand trial or
    2. to assess a defendant's responsibility for his conduct (the "insanity defense").

    If a defendant argues either that he does not have the mental capacity to assist in his trial or that he lacked the mental capacity to be appreciate or control his actions at the time the crime was committed, forensic evaluations will present critical evidence in deciding those issues.
Although these are the most familiar uses of forensic evaluations, lawyers and judges also rely on forensic evaluations in many other situations, for example:
  • At the punishment phase of a criminal case
    In cases where a defendant stands convicted of a sexual offense or a drug-related offense, his or her lawyer may request a forensic evaluation to persuade the judge that there is a minimal risk of recidivism and therefore a lesser sentence is appropriate.
     
  • In personal injury cases
    Where a person seeks recovery for injuries caused by another, forensic evaluations may be useful for a number of reasons, including
    1) to prove that the Plaintiff is not really injured but is malingering, and
    2) to prove the extent of the Plaintiff's psychological trauma, the amount of Plaintiff's suffering, and expected duration of Plaintiff's psychological injury.
     
  • In capital cases
    When the death penalty is a possibility, a forensic evaluation of the defendant may be critical in providing reasons for imposing or not imposing the death penalty.
     
  • Conservatorship / Guardianship proceedings
    In cases where it is alleged that a person cannot handle his or her own affairs and needs a conservator or guardian appointed, forensic evaluations of the allegedly incompetent person play a critical role in the outcome of the case.
     
  • Competency in civil cases
    Sometimes a person's mental competency is a key issue in a civil trial, such as a will contest in which the testamentary capacity of the testator is questioned, or a contract case in which the lack of mental capacity of one party may be grounds to invalidate a contract.
     
  • Psychiatric malpractice cases
    When a psychiatrist or psychologist is sued by a former patient for malpractice, forensic evaluators are called upon to present expert opinion evidence as to the professional conduct or misconduct of the treating psychiatrist or psychologist.

 

 

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last updated July, 2014