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Forensic Psychologist’s Role in Death Penalty Trial

Forensic psychologists play critical roles in court cases. They help the judges to investigate the claims from a professional dimension. They can probe the defendant and contribute towards providing critical evidence that can guide the court towards making the right judgment.

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The Roles of a Forensic Psychologist in a Death Penalty Trial and Appeal

Capital punishment is the ultimate punishment from the Supreme Court in the United States of America. Therefore, the court grants the defendants some specific rights (Hall, 2015). They must get expert opinion concerning their cases, especially from professionals. The forensic psychologists who mitigate some of the issues that the jury must use to establish the intensity of the case. They address the competency and sanity matters. They also give the sexual predator and violence risk assessments for given populations. Their reports also acknowledge the mental status of the defendant at the time of the offense (Kellerman, 2012). The court may use the reports to pass the ruling on the amenability to treatment, rehabilitation, violence risk, and the need for incapacitation. The forensic psychologists may have to interview the defendant and his or her family and review all the relevant information records.

Convictions and Executions of Innocent People

The forensic psychologists have helped to unravel many mysteries in capital punishment cases. However, there are some cases where they have wrongfully used their judgments. Such situations have led to convictions and executions of innocent people. For instance, Randall Dale Adams suffered the same fate. The jury found him guilty of murdering a police officer called Robert Wood. The court partly used James Grigson’s, a forensic psychiatrist, evidence to sentence him. He had to serve twelve years in prison before the tribunal found correct evidence to dismiss his case and set him free.

Other people falsely convicted include Ryan Ferguson for the murder of Kent Heitholt in Columbia in November 2001, Brian Banks for the rape of Wanetta Gibson at Long Beach, California in 2002, and Hannah Everton for the murder of Corpus Christi in Texas in 2006 (Hall, 2015). Susan Jean King also got a sentence of ten years in prison for the killing of Kyle Breeden at Spencer County, Kentucky in 2008. Adrian Thomas also got 25 years in jail for killing his son, Mathew Thomas, at Troy, New York, on 21st September 2008. There are over fifty innocent people caught up in such mysteries. Most of these cases went through courts following the routine proceedings with the help of the psychologists and other professional services (Murrie, 2011). For Randall Adams’ case, the psychologist later lost his status for being inconsistent and incompetent.

The General Reaction of the US Supreme Court to Death Penalty Appeals

In dealing with capital punishment appeals, the Supreme Court typically considers the evidence produced earlier in the case (Kellerman, 2012). It then seeks to find the professional advice that the lower court received for the determination of the case. The expert should communicate to the jury concerning the defendant’s life story to explain how he or she acted in the manner that was against the law. For instance, the Woodson v. North Carolina case, Woodson had been sentenced to death for an armed robbery case. The Supreme Court overturned the judgment on the basis that the ruling failed to establish the defendant’s character, criminal record, and nature of the offense before the incidence (Murrie, 2011).

It is imperative for the prosecutor to use the correct evidence for the argument in court. The professional advice from the psychologist needs to be beyond doubt. However, various errors may mislead the final ruling.


Hall, D. (2015). Criminal law and procedure. New York, NY: Cengage learning.

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Kellerman, J. (2012). Victims. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Murrie, D. (2011). Forensic mental health assessments in death penalty cases. New York, NY: Oxford Scholarship Online.

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