Forensic Psychology


Forensic psychology is the application of the science and the profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. The word "forensic" comes from the Latin word "forensis," meaning "of the forum," where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today forensic psychology refers to the application of scientific principles and practices in order to provide courts, judges, and attorneys with specialized knowledge of the psychological functioning, motivations and empirical science related to human behavior to assist them in making a wide variety of legal decisions pertaining to criminal, civil and family court cases.


Since the law is concerned with judging human behavior and forensic psychology is the application of the science of human behavior to the law, the involvement of a competent forensic psychologist is a valuable asset to defense counsel, the prosecution and the judiciary in order to provide an increased understanding of the motivations, thought processes and psychological functioning of the adult or juvenile undergoing adjudication. Although the types of cases that might benefit from the services provided by a forensic psychologist are varied, some possible examples in criminal court would include: adult/juvenile murder, death penalty mitigation and defense, domestic violence, competence to waive Miranda rights, violence risk/dangerousness, malingering, and downward departure. In a civil context, these might concern posttraumatic stress disorder, the psychological impact of early childhood experiences and violent crime, personal injury, and mental retardation. Dr. Cunliffe has provided a wide array of forensic mental health services and conducted evaluations for the court in a variety of jurisdictions and legal matters.

Forensic interviewing, systematic forensic record review, diagnosis and the use of standardized, empirically validated psychological tests and assessment procedures are a view of ways psychologists apply the science of human behavior to the legal context. Licensed Psychologists are the only mental health practitioner trained, certified and licensed to use and interpret psychological tests. These tests are extremely valuable in the accurate, standardized and empirical assessment of thought processes, thought content, motivations, individual differences, intellectual capacities and mental health condition of those who are evaluated.

Sample legal questions Dr. Cunliffe can assist legal professionals answer:

• Is the defendant or offender legally competent to understand and participate in his or her own defense?
• Is the defendant or person before the court attempting to feign or exaggerate a mental illness, disorder or cognitive impairment for the purposes of avoiding prosecution, monetary gain opr some other purpose?
• What is the extent of the person’s psychological injuries?
• Does the defendant or person pose a significant risk of violence toward the community, family or him or herself?
• Is the defendant likely to reoffend if released from custody?
• Which psychological factors led to the commission of the alleged offense or behavior?