Forensic Evaluations and the Law
The most common uses of Forensic
Evaluations in legal proceedings are:
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
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
- 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
Where a person seeks recovery for injuries caused by
another, forensic evaluations may be useful for a number of
1) to prove that the Plaintiff is not really injured but is
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
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.
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.
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