Mental Health Expert Witness – What is the Difference between a Forensic Psychiatrist and Forensic Psychologist?

April 4, 2022 Criminal Defense

Despite common confusion, there is a difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist. The same is true for an expert witness in a criminal case. Both a forensic psychologist and a forensic psychiatrist can be used to aid in the defense of a criminal defendant.

In simple terms, a psychologist does not have any medical training, but has training and expertise in topics surrounding psychological analysis and testing. In contrast, a psychiatrist is a physician, meaning that they have a medical background and extensive training in specific areas such as mental disorders, the diagnosis of a mental disorder, along with its treatment.

Attorneys will commonly turn to the help of a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist if there is a case involving human behavior rather than general issues of law. For instance, if the defense is arguing a defendant was legally insane at the time the crime was committed, a forensic psychologist would be called upon as an expert witness to offer an opinion on whether the defendant was suffering from insanity.

The benefit of calling a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist to the courtroom in a criminal matter is to provide a defense to the incriminating activities. Having an expert witness provide their expert opinion based on the facts of the case and their specialized training, education, or work in the field can significantly aid in the defense of the case. In some cases, there may be underlying mental illnesses or other issues that could help defend or explain the reason for the crime.

Forensic Psychologist

According to Florida Tech, forensic psychology is the discipline that involves the intersection of psychology and the legal system. Forensic psychologists may have expertise in clinical psychology and may be called upon to determine whether a defendant has competency to stand trial or if they were considered legally insane at the time the crime occurred.

Forensic psychologists may also complete evaluations on sexually violent predators, assess and provide therapy for defendants convicted of crimes, and provide research on the criminal justice system. Their research can be used in the courtroom to aid in jury selection, or they may provide testimony as an expert witness about their research, expertise, and the case at issue.

Forensic Psychiatrist

According to UF Health, forensic psychiatry is a sub-specialty of psychiatry and criminology, which encompasses the interface between psychiatry and law. A forensic psychiatrist would provide services such as the determining the competency of a defendant to stand trial.

A psychiatrist is a qualified medical doctor who dedicates their niche area of study to the human mind, as well as diagnosing people with certain mental illnesses. If someone has been previously diagnosed or is suspected to have some kind of mental illness, it can influence their actions – including whether they engage in criminal activity. The forensic psychiatrist would be able to evaluate the evidence in the case and complete an in-depth study of the defendant and his or her mental state.

The primary duty of a forensic psychiatrist expert witness is to provide an independent opinion of the case based on their expertise. Considering that a forensic psychiatrist has medical school training, they are usually considered to be of higher status or be a more credible witness in a case.

Types of Cases Involving Forensic Psychiatrists and Psychologists

Criminal cases involving forensic psychologists as expert witnesses can involve the following:

  • Criminal Competency
  • Insanity
  • Sentencing Mitigation
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Child Abuse
  • Death Penalty
  • Battered Person Syndrome

Criminal Cases involving forensic psychiatrists as expert witnesses can involve the following:

  • Competency
  • Insanity
  • Mental Illnesses
    • Psychosis
    • Depression
    • Bipolar disorder
  • Prediction of Dangerousness

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime, make sure your first step is contacting an experienced defense attorney. If there is any suspicion of mental illness or other underlying issues in your case, a forensic psychologist or psychiatrist may be able to offer invaluable assistance in your defense. Finding a defense attorney who works directly with mental health expert witnesses is highly important in a case. Don Pumphrey and his legal team at Pumphrey Law Firm have represented clients all across Florida and have experience working with various expert witnesses across many areas of discipline. Call (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.

Written by Karissa Key

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