About Forensic Psychology
An Overview of the Field and Expectations When Seeking Services
Forensic psychology is broadly defined as the application of psychological principles and theories to the legal system. Forensic psychologists are most often involved in pre-trial legal issues, such as assisting the court to make determinations regarding a defendant's adjudicative competence (e.g., to stand trial, accept a plea offer), mental state at the time of the offense (i.e., insanity), or providing consultation to counsel (e.g., during jury selection). Forensic psychologists may also help the court answer civil matters, such as parental fitness and personal injury. Forensic psychological researchers are interested in a wide range of topics including eye witness credibility, bias among forensic mental health experts, and methods of police interrogations. These are just a few examples of the tasks that forensic psychologists might perform.
My services primarily include pre-trial forensic mental health evaluations. In conducting these evaluations, I work for the court; not the defense or prosecution. Even though I may be retained by one side or the other, I am ethically bound (see link to the Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology) to provide the most objective, unbiased opinion possible regarding the psycho-legal issue at hand, even if this opinion does not favor the side that retained my services. My work product includes a comprehensive written report with subsequent testimony, if necessary. It should be noted that, in many cases, my report will not offer a definitive conclusion about the ultimate legal issue (e.g., "Mr. X will re-offending again and should not be released to the community" or "Mr. X should be found not guilty by reason of insanity"). Rather, my reports are intended to compile and lay out the relevant information in a scientifically and clinically sound manner so that the court can arrive at the most informed decision. In making a referral, I also ask that referring parties refrain from sharing their personal opinions about the defendant in question unless this information is explicitly requested.
In addition to my private practice, I am an Assistant Professor in Counseling Psychology at the University of Memphis, where I run an active research lab that focuses on correctional mental health interventions and issues related to forensic assessment. For more information on my research, please visit BatastiniPsychLab.com.
Helping the Court Make Informed Decisions
I am a licensed psychologist in the state of Mississippi (#57 1006). My expertise is primarily in pre-trial forensic mental health assessments that typically involve adult criminal proceedings. If you would like to request a service that is not listed below, please feel free to contact me directly. If your request falls outside the scope of my expertise, I would be happy to assist you in locating a professional competent in that specific area.
In general, I do not provide evaluations of young children, parental fitness or child custody, personal injury or workman's compensation, other disability claims, fitness for duty, or extensive neuropsychological testing.
Competency to Proceed
Assessing Current Functioning
Competency to proceed (or competency to stand trial) is a type of assessment that examines whether a defendant is competent to proceed with his/her legal dispute. Competency standards are statutorily defined, but are concerned with a defendant's ability to understand his/her legal circumstances and the possible consequences, communicate effectively with counsel, and participate actively in his/her defense strategy. Evaluations of competency center around a person's psychological and cognitive functioning in the present. A defendant's competency may be called into question at any time during the legal process. Individuals who are found incompetent are often required to participate in competency restoration services. Other types of competency issues involve competency to waive Miranda rights and competency to be executed.
Mental State or Criminal Responsibility
Assessing Past Functioning
Evaluations of mental state at the time of the offense (used in the insanity defense) attempt to understand a defendant's psychological and cognitive functioning at the time a crime was committed. In these cases, the legal question is not whether the person did the crime--it is whether they should be held legally responsible for the act based on their mental capacity. Often, these assessments are also referred to as criminal responsibility. The standards for an insanity plea are also statutorily defined. Mississippi uses the M'Naghten Rule and the burden of proof is on the state. The M'Naghten Rule allows for two scenarios: (1) the defendant did not understand right from wrong due to a mental disease or defect and/or (2) the defendant did not understand the nature of the act due to mental disease of defect. These types of evaluations tend to be rather complex because they require the evaluator to piece together a person's functioning at some point in the past. Individuals who are found not guilty by reason of insanity typically receive treatment in an inpatient psychiatric setting.
Violence Risk Assessment
Assessing Future Functioning
Violence risk assessments are used for a variety of purposes, including sentencing decisions, civil commitment decisions (e.g., to involuntarily hospitalize), treatment decisions, housing decisions, and community release decisions (e.g., parole). Violence risk evaluations are typically based on empirically-supported factors (i.e., factors that have been shown through research to increase the likelihood that someone will engage in a behavior). Such factors may relate to the person's age, type of victim(s) he/she had, previous relationship status, psychiatric diagnosis, and gender. Specialized tools have been developed to help evaluators predict future offending with some accuracy. However, the results of risk assessments are not full-proof; the error rate is similar to that of tests that predict the probability of developing a given medical illness. Common risk assessments involve the prediction of future general violence and future sexual violence.
Memphis, Shelby County