Ethical Issues in Forensic Assessment – Term Paper

Ethical Issues in Forensic Assessment

Forensic evaluation in most circumstances involves limited contact, an impartial stance, an adversarial forum and a critical assessment style rather than mere assertion by the client (Kalmbach & Lyons, 2006). Thus, forensic psychology is a unique niche that requires high ethical standards with a focus on issues including clarification of roles, confidentiality, intended use, potential recipients (Kalmbach & Lyons, 2006). Forensic assessment professionals participating in the right forum need to ensure that their actions and practice meet the legal standards and general practice for which they are trained. Equally, it is important for them to understand the statutory regulations upon a forensic assessment testimony.

Appropriate Ethical Standards and Forensic Guidelines

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Forensic psychology refers to the professional practice by a psychologist working in any sub-discipline while using technical, scientific, or specialized knowledge to assist in addressing legal, administrative and contractual matters. The guidelines applications are used in every sub-discipline hence following them provide a clear expertise in judicial, educational and administrative systems. American Psychology-Law Society documents some guidelines specifying the responsibilities and standards of application of forensic psychology under Division 41 of APA (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011).

Integrity implies that the practitioner needs to strive for honesty, accuracy, and truthfulness. The practitioner should identify the client who he or she needs to meet. As per the case scenario, Dr. Smith made arrangements to meet the respondent and discuss the case. In this case, the attorney mediated the communication between the respondent and the doctor. Informed consent and disclosure determine how the assessment report will be revealed before decisions are made (American Psychological Association, 2010).

Informed consent seeks to describe an individuals autonomy and respect for their dignity (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011). The important points to include are the name of person or agency requesting the evaluation, the limits of confidentiality, type of information requiring a mandatory report, for example, child abuse. When offering opinions based on expertise, it is important that the forensic therapist is impartial and fair. It clearly indicates that there should be no conflict of interest between the clinical officer and the client. Therefore, the clinical officer should refrain from taking roles in cases or evaluations when personal relationships and financial constraints affect his or her judgment. There should be high level of professional competence and diligence during the assessment period with the defendant.

Confidentiality Limits

In the legal research field, it is important to assume the non-confidentiality as a general matter to allow for credible evaluations. However, there are occasions where the examinee is owed no duty of confidentiality. An example of this instance is a court or statute ordered evaluation. As an ethical standard, however, the doctrines of informed consent require that this individual is informed in case of the outset of the absence of confidentiality (Kalmbach & Lyons, 2006). The results of forensic examination remain protected by the attorney unless the defense raises the issue of insanity thus waiving the confidentiality privilege. However, there is no right to offer complete privacy assurances. On the other hand, if the evaluation is ordered by the court, the defendant (examinee) should be notified that no privileges exist and the copies of the assessment will be issued to the judge and the prosecutor. The limits of confidentiality are described through the civil rights, Fifth Amendment and Sixth Amendment (Kalmbach & Lyons, 2006). The forensic psychologist has an ethical obligation to remain sensitive to the civil rights of a patient.

In evaluative context under criminal justice or crimes alleged, the evaluation results may pose threats to these rights. The Fifth Amendment of the constitution provides a privilege against self-incrimination. This bill shows the belief that no accused person shall be coerced to give testimony as evidence against himself or herself. The forensic psychologist must be aware that communicating any information about the examinee after an evaluation is considered prejudicial and therefore, they must exercise caution and obstruct themselves from giving information that is out of the psychological scope. The Sixth Amendment gives a person right to counsel. The forensic examiner should ensure that a patient has legal representation before conducting an evaluation (American Psychological Association, 2010). In this case scenario, Dr. Smith made sure that the attorney was present during the session. The attorney was the legal representation of the examinee. This principle protects the defendants rights and the examiner in case the evaluation becomes contested.

Particular Circumstances

In the case scenario, Mr. Doe specifically states that he is angry that his coworker cut all communication with him without giving any explanation. He spoke of her with rage and hostility as described in the scenario. According to his statement, he specifies that if he ever sees her again, he will kill her. According to the codes of conduct, the therapist is required to report or notify the authorities (American Psychological Association, 2010). The duty to warn, therefore, applies in circumstances when the case or statutory law requires that the legal professional acts in good faith and informs the target. Here, target refers to the coworker.

The respondents understanding of what is happening shows that he needs a lot of attention. He appears not to sit quiet and cannot answer the question that he ought to answer during his session with Dr. Smith. He, therefore, answers the questions with assistance from the attorney. It is important to note that the offender should not be released on parole before rehabilitation. The 2006 Adam Walsh Child Protection, and Safety Act, signed by President Bush authorizes the civil commitment of inmates who are sexually dangerous. The offender should, therefore, be held indefinitely until he recovers completely and poses no threat to the society (Kalmbach & Lyons, 2006).

Explanation of the Limitations of What the Evaluator Can or Cannot Say

California Supreme Court upheld the law requiring clinical professionals to report an examinee who may pose any danger to the society (American Psychology-Law Society, 2011). Some instances require the forensic psychologist to break the principle of confidentiality. The doctors are protected by certain rules that govern what to say or what not to say. According to the Constitution, and the limitation of secrecy under civil rights, the psychologist remains with the privilege of protecting the reports of the evaluation long after the therapy is completed. This shows that an individual has all the rights to determine who has the report of the evaluation. Confidentiality is broken when the offender reveals that he plans to participate in criminal acts (American Psychological Association, 2010). For example, Mr. Doe plans to kill his coworker. If the perpetrator hints at committing suicide and he or she proves that they are a danger to themselves and the society, the confidentiality principle is broken. Discussing the limits of confidentiality allows the offender to understand that by giving any information, he or she will be held responsible for that in the court.

The Implications of the Third Party Observer to the Evaluation

A third party with relevant and privileged information requires that necessary actions are taken to protect the clients privacy. Through the data collection methods, interpretation, and written communication, information about a patient finds its way to a third party. Therefore, it is important to ensure that necessary measures are taken to prevent it from being shared further. An investigators job is to understand the person is getting a treatment. It is vital to include people from the same profession to help in the data collection process and avoid leakage of a clients medical evaluation report to the public. This shows that a solicitor cannot become employed in gathering information about the customer.

The presence of a person not associated with the examiner during evaluation session discourages honesty more or so when the third party presented is a friend, parent, attorney or a reporter from the court (American Psychological Association, 2010). In this case scenario, the attorney was present during the evaluation session. Hence this could have compromised the degree of honesty of Mr. Doe. However, the presence of the third party is always accepted during forensic psychology sessions. Therefore, the overall mental evaluation is negative hence more research should be done in this field on how precisely it defines the poor performance of the patients.


American Psychological Association. (2010). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from

American Psychology-Law Society. (2011). Specialty guidelines for forensic psychology: Adopted by APA Council of Representatives [Unofficial version]. Retrieved from SGFP_Final_Approved_2011.pdf

Kalmbach, K., & Lyons, P. (2006). Ethical issues in conducting forensic evaluations. Applied Psychology in Criminal Justice, 2(3), 261-290