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Evaluation of The Effectiveness of Forensic Psychology in Supporting The Investigation of Crime

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For centuries before psychology appeared on the scene, philosophers struggled to understand evil and antisocial acts, while students of jurisprudence wrestled with issues of criminal law and punishment. The American Psychological Association (2013) notes ‘Forensic Psychology’ is the application of psychology to the criminal and civil justice systems. Wrightsman (2001) defines it as the production and application of psychological knowledge to the civil and criminal justice systems. This essay’s purpose is to discuss the effectiveness of forensic psychology as a means of supporting the investigation of crime, thereby understanding the contribution of psychology to criminal investigation. It is also to examine the development of offender profiling and evaluating two different methods of offender profiling. It will further explain the psychological factors that influence jury decision making.

Offender profiling is a tool used by law enforcement agencies to identify likely suspects. Its a term coined by the Federal Bureau of lnvestigation(FBI). It entails providing a detailed description of the offender based on an analysis of the crime scene, the victim and any other available evidence. It is one of the most controversial and misunderstood areas of criminal detection, whether it is a misleading fiction or an indispensable tool in the apprehension of serious criminals.

The American approach to profiling an offender is known as ‘The US (Top-Down) approach. It began in the 1970s when Ressler and experts from the Behavioural Science Unit who were experienced in the area of sexual crime and homicide began researching family backgrounds, personalities, behaviours, crimes and motives of serial killers. They carried out an in-depth interview of 36 convicted sexually oriented murderers such as Ted Bundy and Charles Manson analysing their crime scenes. The information gathered helped the FBI to understand the relationship between the crime scene, the nature of the attacks, forensic evidence, any information relating to the victim to develop a classification system for serious crimes such as murder and rape into categories classified as ‘organised’ or ‘disorganised’. The two types were to demonstrate different characteristics of the criminals. Organised criminals would have such features as evidence of planning, a show of self control at the crime scene, unknown victim deliberately targeted, carefully covered tracks with few or no clues and absent of weapon. This would mean the offenders characteristics would be similar as above. The disorganised criminal in contrast would not plan attacks, does it haphazardly, likely known to the victim and leaves more clues or evidence.

The use of this classification analysis as this would indicate the possible characteristics of the offender. It is then called ‘Top-Down’ approach as profile generation is built from pre existing classification categories. The FBI then further developed 4 stages in developing a profile from their crime analysis. Jackson and Bekerian (1997) describes the series of stages as 1; Data assimilation where available data is collected from sources such as photos, autopsy reports 2; Crime classification that is placing the crime into either organised or disorganised 3; Crime reconstruction involving development of a hypothesis about the behaviour of the victim and offender and sequence of events. 4; Profile generation is the final development with suggestions as to the age, social class, p hysical appearance, race, habits etc. of the offender. The US approach has been subject to criticism on several fronts, such as that firstly its limited use to crimes as it is only relevant to certain types of crimes which leave significant evidence and there are multiple offences such as serial murder, rape, paedophilia. It is limited to crimes such as burglary as rarity of the crimes means there are few examples to base technique.

Another weakness of the US approach was poor methodology as the FBI interviewed a small picked sample of three serial murderers and not a range of criminals clouded with doubt as to how reliable and honest would they be. The sample could be the same type of criminals so can not generalise for all crime scenes. Interviews carried out were not standardised and (typologies developed informally) different questions makes it difficult to make comparisons between murderers. The classification was a poor method as it was based on offenders who had been caught and questions could be asked if they differ from colleagues or friends if at large. Also, as a weakness the US (top-down) approach was too simplistic as the validity of the typology has been questioned, that is the accuracy of the categories organised and disorganised. Organised crime scene may not mean an organised offender. Canter et al (2001) analysed evidence from hundreds of murders and found no distinct subset of characteristics as individual differences meant it is difficult to fit people into pre-existing categories. Some offenders could slightly organised and crime scenes disorganised. However the approach was worthwhile in profiling contributions to investigate horrific crimes, (Douglas, 1991) argued that 77 percent of cases held to focus vestigation in the right direction. Arguably it helps serve a life as in the case of a serial killer Arthur Shawcross. It allows profiles to be put together quickly and predictions of what kind of person is the offender.

The UK approach to offender profiling started by david canter in the 1980s with an accurate profile of John Duffy it was adopted as it best typifies the UK approach and it was in its inception and non-uniform. The UK (bottom-up) approach is more scientific than the FBI approach as it is based on more psychological theories such as theories of social cognition which show how and why there are variations in criminal behaviour. It is central to the UK approach that it looks at consistencies within the actions of offenders and not seeable differences between them.

The UK approach has been called the bottom-up because it builds a profile from crime scene role data. Thus it is driven from below. David CAnter noted that the degree of violence and control used in some serious crimes especially rape varies between offenders and that some tend to be consistent in the way they interact with their victims and other in their everyday lives. For example some rapists are violent or controlling whereas others are less violent. Thus a controlling rapist could be a controlling husband the above explanation is interpersonal coherence. In the UK approach David Canter formulated three main themes when profiling a case the first one being interpersonal coherence which is the selection and type of victim and the way the victim is treated by the offender. Which is the first of the three key themes. The second is the significance of time and place that is when and where a crime takes place which may generate clues about the offender. It entails the concept of mental maps which meant geographical pattern of offending and precise locations giving out clues where the offender is living and previous experiences. For example a marauder assume the offender will ‘strike out’ from their home base when committing their crimes and a commuter will be an offender that travels a distance from their home base before engaging in criminal activity. The third key theme is that of Forensic awareness of the offender. This looks at variables and patterns if the criminals have previously been questioned by police. Their subsequent crimes may leave indications of this. Also attempts by the offender to conceal evidence might indicate offender has had previous convictions. For example in the case of Davies et al. (1997) found rapists who conceal fingerprints are likely to have a conviction for burglary. Therefore in such cases a thorough check of police records may well be worthwhile.

A case example of the UK ‘Bottom – Up’ pioneered by David Canter was that of the ‘Railway Rapist’. It became the first known case in Britain where it gave direct help to police. It was a result of 24 sexual assaults and 3 murders in London over a period of 4 years and happened around railway stations. All the assaults were assumed to be the same man, sometimes working alone, sometimes with another person. Canter used principles from psychology in his investigation that people influence each other’s actions and that differences between attacks involving one man and those which they were both involved might offer clues. Also that people’s behaviour changes over time and a look at the changes that took place between 1982 – 1986 could provide clues to the offenders. Before the profile the offender had been 1505th on the list of 2000 suspects. The police using extensively Canter’s profiling and the 3 key themes they managed to narrow down the list to 150th and ultimately an arrest. The methodological evidence of John Duffy by Canter’s profiling supports the UK profiling methods. The UK (Bottom-Up) showed different types of rape supported with good evidence would be identified by characteristics from the crime.

Another strength of the bottom up as it is more objective and scientific it is more grounded in evidence and psychological theory and its less focussed on suspicions and guesses. As a weakness it is questionable as to whether its applicable to all types of crime since it relies on patterns of behaviour across offenders. It is good for burglary and sexual assault but is it good for petty crimes such as theft or vandalism? This subsection of the essay is to discuss how the characteristics of the defendant may affect jury decision making. These include ethnicity, physical attractiveness, gender and age. Ethnicity for example research has found out that blacks are more likely to be wrongly convicted in a mock jury, Duncan (1976) varied the ethnicity of defendants and victim in a video tape of a potential violent situation. Duncan found out that black offenders are more convicted than white offenders and in an ambiguous shove. It was judged to be more violent when performed by a black than a white individual. Thus blacks where deemed to be more violent. However Baldwin and Moonville (1979) found black offenders more wrongly to be convicted. In a mock jury situation by Pfeiffer and Ogloff (1991) found there was racial bias, white participants were more likely to judge a black than a white defendant guilty in a rape case. This was especially when the victim was white so it would have been different if it was a white defendant to white victim and also white defendant to black victim. When asked to justify the verdict the effect disappeared suggesting differences due to stereotyping.

Physical attractiveness is another characteristic of a defendant that may affect jury decision making. It is argued that attractive people are rarely considered to behave as criminals. Dion, Berschied and Hatfeild (1972) coined a classic expression “what is beautiful is good.” this was to demonstrate that attractive people have a considerable advantage in life. In another study Stewart (1985) found a correlation between attractiveness of a defendant and severity of the punishment given that was the more attractive the less the sentence they would receive. Also Saladin et al (1988) should participants’ photos of men judged capability to commit murder and armed robbery. Results were that attractive men were less likely to commit either crimes. Limitations to this are that if attractive individuals appear to abuse their good looks for example con people then the halo effect advantage is lost. Also that research may reflect a publication bias in that studies finding no link between defendant features and jury decisions may not be published.

There are also psychological influences that have an effect on jury decision making process such as conformity, labeling, horns/halo effect. Conformity or majority influence was carried out in an experiment by Solomon Ach where he aimed to investigate the effects of group pressure on individuals in an unambiguous situation. He aimed to find out how individuals would give an answer when approached with an obvious incorrect answer and to whether individuals would give an answer which perpetuated this error. Thereby confirming or would give an independant response. He hypothesised that the majority of people would not conform to something obviously incorrect. Smith and Mackie (1995) suggest that there are factors why the majority view is influential and Hinsz and Davis (1994) found more varied opinions resulted in a greater shift. Another factor would be deeper discussion. Stasser and Stewart (1992) gave some information to the majority and some to a single individual. When instructed to share all information they focused on shared information and excluded the non shared informations. Also, greater influence of knowing the majority of people are on your side results in more forthright, argumentative and compelling views by Kerr et al (1987).

Labeling theory is another psychological influence on jury decision making. It suggests that people come to identify and behave in ways that reflect how others label them. It was argued that labels have the power of a master status for example ‘criminal’ may override other statuses such as the father or husband. This was by Becker (1963) a person’s social identity can be altered radically by labelling. They end up in self fulfilling prophecies after seeing others with similar identities and values. This is then when someone is labeled a criminal and reoffender will subsequently influence jury decision making. So does expert testimony once a person is labelled as deviant it is difficult to remove that label.

It can be argued that forensic psychology is a very much effective tool in criminal investigations. It supports investigations by understanding the psychology finding explanations why people commit crimes, and coming up with theories of crime. Therefore forensics psychology is a crucial blend of both psychology and the criminal justice system. The use of forensic psychology not only leads to the investigation of crime, but an investigation of the person behind it, too. Forensic psychologists have also constructed tests that could be used in judicial proceedings in which they suggested that the time it takes for a person to answer a question could be a factor in determining guilt or innocence.

Forensic psychology has made considerable contribution to policing for example offender profiling where it has been proved that the benefits were seen mainly not so much in identifying the offender but rather in having a second opinion intelligent to provide new ways of approaching the case. Profiling thus assist in solving crimes but its effect is indirect rather than direct as legal decision are made on intuition and experience. But there are not reliable hence the introduction of forensic psychology which helps in having an indepth look into the matter. It also identified methods to improve witness testimony by considering improving reliability of identification that is improvement of identikits and improving identity parades and the use of an innovative interviewing technique known as cognitive interview. Also in consideration was variables in eyewitness testimony as it maybe inexact because memory under any circumstances is subject to inaccuracy. In UK at the present there is little consistency of approach therefore overall assessment of its usefulness is difficult if not impossible.

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Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Forensic Psychology in Supporting the Investigation of Crime. (2020, October 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 17, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluation-of-the-effectiveness-of-forensic-psychology-in-supporting-the-investigation-of-crime/
“Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Forensic Psychology in Supporting the Investigation of Crime.” GradesFixer, 31 Oct. 2020, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluation-of-the-effectiveness-of-forensic-psychology-in-supporting-the-investigation-of-crime/
Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Forensic Psychology in Supporting the Investigation of Crime. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluation-of-the-effectiveness-of-forensic-psychology-in-supporting-the-investigation-of-crime/> [Accessed 17 May 2022].
Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Forensic Psychology in Supporting the Investigation of Crime [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2020 Oct 31 [cited 2022 May 17]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/evaluation-of-the-effectiveness-of-forensic-psychology-in-supporting-the-investigation-of-crime/
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