This is the 2007 version. Click here for the 2017 chapter 14 table of contents.

Psychology in Court

What is it like to be a psychologist serving as an expert witness in court? Kicking off the inaugural issue of a new scholarly journal, The Journal of Forensic Psychology, Haward (1969) wrote:

In some ways, court work offers a more exciting challenge to the psychologist than any other role he takes up. Nowhere else are his findings exposed to such merciless criticism or his beliefs taxed to their utmost credulity. (in Brodsky, 1973)

Such consulting work, in which a psychologist offers an expert opinion to back up one side or the other of a legal case, can be very profitable. There is no problem motivating psychologists to face the merciless criticism and heavy professional responsibilities of courtroom work. It is true, however, that a psychologist offering expert opinions in a courtroom can expect to be challenged in every way.

What must an expert witness expect to experience?

Patrick Carnes, the expert on sexual addiction described earlier in this chapter, was verbally attacked when he testified about President Clinton. The defense lawyer pointed out that Carnes "only" had a doctoral degree in education, not in psychology. The fact that Carnes had written several books on the subject and was considered a leading authority on sexual addiction was ignored by the defense attorneys. The defense tactic-challenging Carnes's credentials-is a variation of the source degradation strategy mentioned in Chapter 15. It is a tactic for reducing the persuasive power of an argument. A psychologist testifying in court must expect this type of attack from the other side, which will try to "degrade" the credibility of the psychologist's message by questioning his or her credentials or qualifications to testify.


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