Forensic Psychology and Ethical Implications

Forensic Psychology and Ethical Implications


Forensic Psychology and Ethical Implications

Following the Guidelines of the American Psychological Association







This paper focuses on forensic psychology and ethical implications. I will examine the ethical implications of a controversial topic related to forensic psychology. The subject is psychologists’ involvement in assessments related to death penalty cases. In 1,000-1,250 words, I will consider the following. I will discuss human rights as it relates to the controversy. I will explain ethical implications that may arise for both sides of the controversy.


According to DeMatteo & Edens (2006) Forensic Psychologists go through a checklist of criteria in order to determine whether a convicted person is insane or is sane and then deserves the death penalty. Those states in the United States that issue the death penalty include Alabama, Arkansas and Florida. In such states where the death penalty is warranted as a punishment for a criminal offence, a Forensic Psychologist will have an interview or a series of interviews with the convict in order to assess their mental stability or lack of mental stability. According to Perlin (1994), this researcher states that the role of the Forensic Psychologist is not as easy as it mean seem.

The Forensic Psychologist must also be able to use their intuition and experience in the field to be able to accurately assess if the convict in question that is up for the death penalty is perhaps pretending to be insane so that they can avoid the death penalty (Perlin, 1994). There are many convicts that can deceive the assessment tests that are well laid out for the Forensic Psychologist, particularly if they are repeat offenders where in the majority of situations they are repeat offenders. Forensic assessment does have a strict protocol that is involved (Heilbrun, 1992). There are a number of key instructions that the Forensic Psychologist must carry out in order to assess a convicted person to determine whether or not they should receive the death penalty. The role of the Forensic Psychologist is vital in this process of accessing whether or not a convict should receive the death penalty for their wrongdoings and Forensic Psychologists are highly trained individuals who understand that their job is important on a number of ethical consideration levels as well as human rights considerations (Fabian, 2003).

Human Rights/Ethical Considerations

The human rights considerations with a Forensic Psychologist’s work starts right from the courtroom while the trial is taking place to determine the sentencing of the accused person towards a death penalty verdict (Devine, Clayton,, Dunford, Seying & Pryce, 2001). Historically Friedman, (1994) notes that it is people of color in America, particularly African American men in America who have been sentenced to the death penalty. Ogletree Jr (2002) takes this concept even further and calls this over punishment and over sentencing of Black men being given the death penalty as a sentence as the “Black man’s burden,” (Ogletree Jr, 2002). Tonry (1995) discusses how the over punishment of African American men towards being sentenced the death penalty is a human rights infraction and is a cause of the racism that exists in the criminal justice system.Walker, Spohn & DeLone (2012) note that the problem of African American men being sentenced with the death penalty is such a problem that the color of justice has turned into an issue where there is a White establishment that is prosecuting Black men in such a way that it is as though slavery did not end in America. Walker, Spohn & DeLone (2012) go as far as to call the color of justice situation in America the “new slavery,” (Walker, Spohn & DeLone, 2012).

What is a Forensic Psychologist’s role in all of this? According to Gershoff & Bitensky (2007), even when looking at corporal punishment of children as a human rights issue – the same theories or similar ones are applied to the assessment tools of a Forensic Psychologist when it comes to assessing convicts subject to the death penalty. A Forensic Psychologist must be mindful that their own biases of the individual they are assessing, particularly if they are not of the same background as the convicted person, do not come into play and that their assessments are not violating the human rights of the convicted person (Perlin, 2010). As Perlin (2010) notes, this means applying a human rights standard in the Forensic Psychologist’s assessment tools. According to Perlin & McClain (2009) cultural implications of the mental assessment tools that go into determining the validity of a sentencing being rendered for the death penalty need to be in place by the Forensic Psychologist. The same applies to ethical considerations that are closely linked to human rights issues.

Ethical Considerations

According to Appelbaum (1990) this researcher’s scholarly article discusses how the Forensic Psychiatrist can create a lot of harm in the lives of convicts sentenced to the death penalty. The Forensic Psychiatrist not always being attentive of their work and/or basing their analysis on a series of assumptions and ill-researched conclusions can end of sending a person who should not receive the death penalty to be executed (Appelbaum, 1990). On the other hand, there are other Forensic Psychiatrists who can misdiagnose someone who is sane as insane and a person that should have been rightfully been given the death penalty does not receive it (Appelbaum, 1990).

How Forensic Psychologists try to prevent this dilemma of the difficult nature of ethical considerations of their work is by following a systematic model of decision making on the part of the Forensic Psychologist that is legislated by the professional body that they are associated with (Bush, Connell & Denney, 2006). Many Forensic Psychologists have to constantly be reading up on their profession and the latest decision-making practices of other Forensic Psychologists in their field in order to ensure that they are doing the best job possible by decoding the ethical protocol and applying the highest principles of it to their work (Fisher, 2016). Gunn & Taylor (2014) also note that it is vital that a Forensic Psychologist follow all of the ethical protocol with their work since if there is any accusations or condemnation of wrongdoing and/or unethical practices in their work, they can face legal repercussions plus loss of employment.


This paper focuses on forensic psychology and ethical implications. I examined the ethical implications of a controversial topic related to forensic psychology. The subject is psychologists’ involvement in assessments related to death penalty cases. In 1,000-1,250 words, I considered the following. I discussed human rights as it relates to the controversy. I explained ethical implications that may arise for both sides of the controversy.


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