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Volume 2 Issue 3


Shannon, B. D.

Introduction to "Special Issue: Forensic Mental Health Services in Texas"

A Forensic Evaluator's Guide to the Texas Legal System

Frost, L. E.

For mental health professionals, accepting forensic work can feel akin to stepping through the looking glass. The therapeutic work that has been the core of clinical training emphasizes the best interests of the client and encourages the consideration of all data in developing a thorough understanding of the psychodynamics driving any egodystonic behavior. In contrast, a mental health professional serving as a forensic evaluator generally works for the court, not the subject of the evaluation, and must retain a professional distance and objectivity from the subject of the evaluation. Whether a criminal defendant facing homicide charges or a father seeking custody of a child, the subject of the evaluation desires a very specific outcome and is motivated to further that outcome, so that malingering is a significant risk in contrast to therapeutic work (Melton, 1997, at 53-58). The task of the forensic evaluator is defined by a legal standard, which may make parts of a complete case study of the subject irrelevant. The court, in fact, will seek very specific assistance in resolving the legal issue at the heart of the court proceeding.


Conroy, M.A. & Kwartner, P. P.

Malingering is almost always a rule-out in any forensic evaluation. The adversarial process and the high stakes involved in criminal proceedings may affect the likelihood that an individual will distort his or her symptom presentation. In cases where a forensic evaluation is sought, the defendant may be feigning illness to gain admission to a psychiatric hospital, to reduce culpability with an insanity defense, or to seek a more lenient sentence.

Evaluating Mental Retardation for Forensic Purposes

Seay, O. J.

It is estimated that people with mental retardation comprise about 2 to 3 percent of the general population, yet they comprise 4 to 10 percent of the inmate population in state and federal prisons nationwide (Petersilia, 2000). However, statistics for this population are varied and difficult to compare due to differences in the ways in which mental retardation is identified. Data for the year 2002 suggest that, in Texas, when IQ alone was used, rough estimates were that 7 percent, or 8,758 individuals, of the institutional division of the prison system were persons with mental retardation, and 751 were in state jails comprising 5.1 percent of that population (Texas Department of Criminal Justice, 2002). This does not take into account those on specialized caseloads of probation officers in the community or those who may have been diverted to residential programs.

Competency to Stand Trial

Otto, R. K.

The notion that defendants must be capable of assisting in their defense and participating in the legal process can be traced to at least the 14th century, when Common Law courts refused to proceed against defendants considered to be incompetent as a result of mental disorder or mental defect (Poythress, Bonnie, Monahan, Otto, & Hoge, 2002). Using an approach to forensic assessment introduced and refined by Grisso (1986; 2003), this chapter first reviews the legal framework for the competence question, next offers a template for assessing defendants whose competence to proceed1 with the criminal process has been raised as an issue, and finishes with a discussion of special topics and issues relevant to the competence question.

Sanity Evaluations and Criminal Responsibility

Reid, W. H.

Contrary to popular belief, the insanity defense is rarely used; it is tough to win; the Constitution probably requires that it be available to qualified defendants, and defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI, NGI, NRRI) may spend more time in mental hospitals than they would have spent incarcerated had they been found guilty. The purpose of the insanity defense is related to a very old, well-tested requirement for finding defendants guilty: the prosecution must prove not o­nly that the alleged act was committed, but that the act was committed in a criminal way. "Taking" is not the same as "stealing"; "killing" is not the same as "murder." In general, for a crime to be committed, the actor must intend to commit a crime.

Risk Assessments in the Texas Criminal Justice System

Conroy, M. A.

Over the years the criminal justice system throughout the United States has relied o­n psychiatrists and psychologists to make predictions regarding future violence. In earlier years this question was framed as "predicting dangerousness" and the answer was often a simple "yes" or "no." With little or no scientific basis for these "crystal ball readings," predictions were frequently wrong. Follow-up studies o­n patients released who were considered dangerous sometimes indicated false positive rates higher than 80%. The field research conducted in the area was so poorly controlled that it is impossible to determine any exact percentages. It seems clear, however, that the potential for violence was overestimated in many cases.

Special Issues In Juvenile Justice

Cruise, K. R.

From the original juvenile court founded in Cook County, Illinois, to current juvenile court systems across the United States, the philosophy of juvenile justice has reflected society's predominant views o­n youth and adolescence. The first juvenile courts developed during the industrial revolution when social reformers were concerned about the dangers children faced in the workplace. In the early 1900s, compulsory education was promoted as a mechanism to improve the status of poor and immigrant children as well as a tool of social control (Steinberg, 2002). G. Stanley Hall had defined the boundaries of adolescence and described the ensuing "storm and stress" as a universal experience of all youth. Under the doctrine of parens patriae, juvenile court systems were developed with the primary goal of rehabilitating wayward youth.

Special Issues in Capital Sentencing

Cunningham, M.

The modern era of death penalty statutes and procedures were a response to Furman v. Georgia (1972), a 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court declaring that the death penalty as it was then being practiced in the United States was unconstitutional. State legislatures throughout the country, including Texas, redrafted their death penalty statutes to address the concerns of the Court that the death penalty had been applied in a capricious and arbitrary fashion. These statutes were initially tested and modified by subsequent decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in cases such as Woodson v. North Carolina (1976), Gregg v. Georgia (1976), Jurek v. Texas (1976), and Lockett v. Ohio (1978). The resulting death penalty statutes and procedures reflect three primary themes: a restricted class of death-eligible offenses, an individualized determination of death-worthiness, and heightened standards of reliability.

Report Writing and Testimony

Conroy, M.A.

Numerous psychiatrists and psychologists have contributed to the literature regarding the composition of a good forensic report (Borum & Grisso, 1996; Heilbrun, 2001; Heilbrun & Collins, 1995; Gutheil, 1998; Nicolson & Norwood, 2000; Rogers & Shuman, 2000; Weiner, 1999).Some texts even include an extensive array of sample reports (Melton, Petrila, Poythress, & Slobogin, 1997; Shapiro, 1999). However, style and format still remain flexible and can be individualized to the author's patterns of analysis. Forensic reports should also be "user-friendly" and geared to the needs of the targeted audience and the particular questions posed or standards referenced. That said, there are still some general principles of report writing that represent the standard in the field, along with specific jurisdictional requirements.

Ethical Issues in Conducting Forensic Evaluations

Kalmbach, K. C. & Lyons, P. M.

The role of the forensic mental health professional (MHP) often differs substantially from that of the typical clinician. These differences bear directly o­n the ethical delivery of services (Canter, Bennett, Jones & Nagy, 1994; Heilbrun, 2001, 2003).