For the criminal division, psychologists provide expert psychological evaluations for both juveniles and adults. Psychologists also provide counseling and psychotherapy for juveniles and adults accused of criminal acts, and post-conviction counseling for individuals on probation. Finally, psychologists provide counseling and psychotherapy for the victims of crimes, especially violent crimes.
In juvenile criminal proceedings, psychologists are used extensively in the assessment of alleged juvenile offenders. Psychologists are an integral part of the assessment of juveniles as part of waiver hearings because the juvenile must be evaluated to establish the presence of psychological problems related to their crime, and the prognosis for treatment, when either requesting or challenging a waiver motion. Additionally, within the juvenile system, a psychological evaluation of the juvenile offender is often presented to the court for consideration when imposing sentencing on the juvenile. Frequently, juveniles commit criminal acts because they have psychological problems, and rehabilitation of those psychological problems is of vital importance to prevent recidivism. Most juvenile offenders show evidence of psychological problems, and psychological treatment is often part of probation.
In adult criminal court, there are many occasions when a psychological expert can provide valuable information to the court. In Child Abuse cases, psychological evaluation of the defendant may identify psychological problems underlying the criminal acts, and treatment recommendations are often part of any plea agreements. Additionally, if a young child is the primary witness in a criminal case, psychologists are often asked to testify regarding the reliability of the child witness. In domestic violence cases, restraining order violators may be evaluated to assess impulse control and potential risk for violent behavior. Those individuals may also need counseling and psychotherapy services.
Our legal system requires that an individual accused of a crime must be competent to stand trial in order to defend himself/herself. Further, an individual may be competent to stand trial, but may have been suffering from a psychological disorder at the time the crime was committed. This could prevent an individual from forming intent to commit a crime, and such a situation is called diminished capacity. Finally, even if the individual is competent to stand trial, and was competent when the crime was committed, the presence of a psychological disorder may present a mitigating factor to be considered at sentencing. For all these reasons, psychological evaluations of criminal defendants might be indicated. These factors are also important for sentencing. Psychological factors that are part of a defendant's personality style and which predict a potential behavior pattern are potentially useful in establishing whether or not that individual was capable of committing the offenses presented at trial. Finally, the psychological assessment of sexual offenders can help determine disposition following sentencing, as well as determining treatment needs to avoid recidivism.
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