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What is the purpose of a forensic psychological evaluation? 

In general, a forensic psychological evaluation should provide comprehensive, objective information based upon clinical and scientific knowledge that will assist the triers of fact in reaching their conclusions.

What is the difference between the roles of a forensic psychological examiner and a treating clinician? 

The clinical relationship is based upon "basic trust" in which the client/patient is taken at face value. The forensic evaluation is founded in "basic distrust" in which efforts are made to corroborate all information used in making a decision. Combining roles of treater and forensic examiner is discouraged by ethical standards promulgated by psychology and psychiatry. 

"Mental health professionals who treat individuals cannot competently or ethically provide expert testimony because of irreconcilable differences between the therapeutic and forensic roles." 

"A competent forensic examiner should be skeptical, verify self-reports, integrate data gathered by different methods, and reach conclusions that are accurate and objective, although not necessarily therapeutic." 

"A competent therapist should be empathetic and accepting. Because the information that therapists routinely gather is rarely verified, it is inadequate to provide reliable information to address ... psycholegal issues." [From Rogers and Shuman (2000)]

Can a treating mental health professional provide expert testimony? 

It is not advised to use a treating clinician as an expert with regard to legal opinions. However, they may be fact-based witnesses testifying about history provided by the patient, treatment-related concerns including mental status and diagnosis, treatment and treatment response, prognosis and observed clinical characteristics.

Who pays for forensic evaluations? 

Aside from attorneys requesting the evaluations, our fees may be paid by various agencies such as the Office of Behavioral Health Services and Public Defender Services, although payor sources are not limited to these.

Will you accept an evaluation on a contingency fee basis? 

No. Psychological ethical standards prohibit contingency fees in forensic evaluations. Accepting a contingency fee based on the outcome of an evaluation would negate our role as an independent evaluator or "friend to the court." It would also undermine our credibility as an expert witness, casting doubt on our objectivity.

What information is needed to make a referral? 

Referrals can be made via telephone during our regular business hours, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, by calling (304) 345-0880 or faxing to (304) 345-1112. If you would prefer to e-mail you may contact us.

What records are needed and why are they important? 

Records are invaluable to the evaluation process.
The records that we request are listed below. 

For Criminal Offenders

Attested Court Orders
Criminal Investigation Report
Previous mental health records and evaluations
Previous medical records and evaluations (if relevant)
School records / standardized test scores (juvenile defenders)
Probation reports (sentencing recommendations)
Criminal complaint

For Civil Suits

Previous mental health records and evaluations
Previous medical records and evaluations (if relevant)
School records / standardized test scores (juvenile defenders)
Criminal record (if it applies to the client)
Civil complaint

What is involved in an evaluation and what can we tell our clients to expect? 

Once we have the needed referral information, we will schedule two dates. The first day involves psychological testing measuring any of a number of psychological variables. This appointment is usually scheduled from 9:00 AM to approximately 3:30 PM, although your client should be prepared to be here the full day. The client should bring any needed aids such as glasses or hearing aids. The client must bring a list of all medications he/she has been prescribed and bring any that may need to be taken during the day. We do not provide lunch, but can provide a place for the client to eat a bag lunch. There are restaurants in the area for non-incarcerated clients. 

The second psychological appointment is scheduled on a separate day. This appointment consists of a biographical interview and clinical interview with the psychologist(s). Your client will be here approximately three and one-half hours. This appointment may run longer or shorter than scheduled.

What is the difference between criminal responsibility and competency to stand trial? 

Criminal responsibility refers to the individual's ability at the time of the crime to understand right from wrong, to understand the consequences of his/her behavior and to be able to conform his/her behavior to the dictates of the law. 

Issues related to competency to stand trial were addressed in the United States Supreme Court ruling Dusky v. United States (1960) which has become the standard in federal and state jurisdictions in regard to competency. The court ruled that evaluators must address the individual's present ability to: 

  • Appreciate the charges lodged against him/her

  • Appreciate the penalties that might be imposed against him/her

  • Appreciate the adversarial nature of the trial process

  • Possess sufficient understanding of the legal process

  • Cooperate with his/her attorney in preparation of the case

  • Disclose relevant information pertinent to the current proceedings

  • Testify relevantly on his/her own behalf

  • Maintain appropriate courtroom behavior

What happens to a defendant who has been found not competent to stand trial? 

When a defendant has been ruled incompetent to stand trial by the court, criminal proceedings are then suspended. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, several options are then available to the court. 

If the offense is minor, the court may decide to dismiss the charges if the defendant will seek treatment in a civil setting as mandated by the court. If the crime is of a more serious nature, the defendant is often committed to the public mental health care system for treatment until such time as he/she may be brought to competence. If competence is then achieved, the judicial process will resume. 

If the defendant is unable to be brought to competence, then the court will rule on appropriate mental health placement. In Jackson v. Indiana (1972), the United States Supreme Court held that a person with a criminal offense who is committed solely due to his incapacity to proceed to trial cannot be held more than a reasonable period of time necessary to determine whether there is a substantial probability that he will attain the capacity in the foreseeable future. If it is determined that this is not the case, then the State must institute the customary civil commitment proceedings that normally would be required.

What is the difference between insanity and mental illness? How might this distinction affect a forensic evaluation? 

Insanity is a legal term with its modern roots in the M'Naghten ruling in 1843. This has been revised several times (Durham v. United States, 1954; The ALI Standard, 1962; Insanity Defense Reform Act, 1984). 

Mental illness is a clinical term based upon diagnostic criteria usually set forth in the DSM-IV. An individual may be mentally ill but not legally insane. However, an individual cannot be insane without suffering from a mental disease or defect.

How does the use of alcohol or other illicit substances affect an individual's criminal responsibility? 

In many jurisdictions, including West Virginia, voluntary ingestion of alcohol or drugs does not impact an individual's legal standing with regard to criminal responsibility. Actions that may be the result of an unexpected side effect of a prescribed medication could impact an individual's legal standing.

Are there other factors besides a mental disease that would have an impact on competency or criminal responsibility?

In addition to a mental illness, an individual may suffer from a mental defect such as severely limited intellectual functioning (mental impairment), specific medical conditions or brain damage that might have an impact on legal issues being assessed.

What if damaging information is discovered during the course of the evaluation? 

Psychologists and psychiatrists conducting forensic examinations are ethically obligated to report all data they have that relate directly to the purpose of the evaluation. 

It is important that the individual undergoing a forensic evaluation understand the conditions of such an undertaking and consent to it. He or she should be informed that the results might not be favorable to the desired outcome. At times, the conclusions reached by the expert could be harmful to an individual's case. 

The evaluator uses information gathered during the testing and interviews to make determinations regarding competence and responsibility. The evaluator is to avoid causing harm by insuring that "their services and products of the service are used in a forthright and responsible manner" (Stone & Shear, 1958).

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