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Issues in Psychology

There are countless issues in our community related to psychology that must be given attention. These are issues that often have an effect on those who are directly involved. This paper will discuss some of the big issues in our community including the genetic theory of crime; legal system’s criticisms on psychological methods and findings; specific role of a forensic psychologist; children as witnesses; mental health offenders and the effects of their state to the prosecution of their cases, and; the voir dire process.

The importance of studying and examining the importance of the abovementioned issues will be a big help in improving services for the emancipation of those involved. Genetic theory of crime The genetic theory of crime states that genetics is responsible for one’s criminal behavior. This theory also states that the physical characteristics and DNA are accurate factors in identifying a criminal. In Milder’s (n. d. ) article, “Is crime in the genes? ”, he points out that during the 20th century, the genetic theory of crime “assumed a facade of increasing scientific rigor.

” Through a series of tests, including IQ and family tree reconstructions, psychologists found out that social undesirability was extensive in families. This result implicated that environment and genetics are possible causes of crime, and as such became the basis for the 1920’s prison sterilization programs. A few years later, studies have shown that there was another contributing factor to violent behavior: the XYY configuration. XYY configuration means that males have two chromosomes, instead of the usual single chromosome.

Since males are already to have the tendency to be more violent, having the XYY will make them more violent (Milder, n. d. ). Milder (n. d. ) further clarifies that the media does not explain much about genes as cause for a violent behavior. He cited a New York Times science writer, Natalie Angier, saying that “the evidence for a genetic contribution to [mental illness] is quite strong. ” The author mentioned that in the study of twins, the hereditary contribution for schizophrenia falls between 30% to 50%, and the hereditary contribution for manic-depressive illnesses is more. Milder (n. d.

) points out that twin studies have limitations because the twin population is very small, which will make it more difficult to come up with new findings for every twin being observed. Although there may be a connection, there is no concrete result to explain the different patterns of behavior among humans. Twin studies have been used to clarify the effects of genetics in one’s behavior. These studies are helpful because identical twins bear the same genetic make up. Psychologists and specialists can use these studies in comparing with non twins regarding the frequency of criminal behavior.

Specialists will be able to point out the role of genetics in behavior if, for instance, twins display criminal behavior more frequently than non twin siblings. Several other studies were conducted to identify the roles of the decoupling effects of genes and the environment as primary causes in criminal behavior. To separate the concept of nature from nurture, Jones (2005) stated that adoption studies can be used to examine the relationship existing between adoptive children and their biological and adoptive parents.

An adoption study in Iowa was done to look at the genetics of criminal behavior. The result showed that adoptive children born to jailed female offenders exhibited a higher rate of criminality as adults. This shows that criminal behavior is possible to be inherited. Other studies in Sweden and Denmark also showed similar results as that of previous adoption studies (Jones, 2005). Researches based on the adoption studies showed that the environment has a significant role in the development of criminal behavior. The studies also showed that genetic influence could be possible.

Genetic influence pertains to the possibility that an adopted child’s behavior may acquire traits that are similar to his or her biological parents, regardless if there have been any environmental influence imposed by the parents on the child. Even with the aid of the studies conducted on twins and adoptive children, there is no adequate evidence to claim that genetics is the most significant contributing factor to explain one’s criminal behavior. Studies tend to have flaws, and there always lie a possibility that the people behind the research are unable to entirely separate nature from nurture.

Moreover, debates on the influence of genetic and environmental factors on behavior have still remained. Legal System on Psychology Forensic psychology is concerned with the application of psychological principles and methods to legal questions. Psychology methods may have flaws, but the legal system came to acknowledge the contribution of psychology in giving light to certain issues, especially to criminal behavior. Psychology has also helped in the area of empirical research. When profiling entered the picture, investigators had a better understanding of how offenders work or why they kill, for instance.

This form of psychology has helped investigators to prevent crimes or find offenders. Moreover, through psychology, how personality plays a big role in the criminal behavior of an offender can be easily identified. Profiling Profiling is one of the roles of a forensic psychologist. In profiling, a forensic psychologist analyzes a crime scene and the information gathered will be used to establish the identity of the perpetrator. Although the result of profiling does not give the entire identity of the perpetrator, it is helpful in confining likely suspects who fit the profile.

Usually, profiling based on a crime scene determines helpful information about the perpetrator. This includes ethnic background, personality, age, sex, and physical features. Any individual who most fitted the criminal’s profile will be the primary suspect. In profiling, the personality of the perpetrator is the most important part because behavior reflects personality. Profiling based on the personality of the offender delves into how a crime is committed. This is also known as the ‘method of operations,’ or m. o.

It includes the following: victim’s identity; if there are more victims, what they have in common; weapon; degree of hostility and torture, existence of sexual molestation. Analysis of these things can lead a forensic psychologist in finding out the offender’s motives. This, then, will lead to the personality profile of the offender. Profiling is one of the important roles of a forensic psychologist. Through profiling, psychologists can provide an explanation to the behavior of a criminal. This role of forensic psychologists is very important.

Even from crime movies where a profiler is needed, it shows that a profiler can give light to the behavior of the criminal. Children as Witnesses There are states that allowed special courtroom procedures in accommodating children as witnesses, to prevent children from being traumatized if they testify in court. Meanwhile, there are issues that must be considered when using children as witnesses in courts. Witnesses must be competent enough to testify, and this includes children. In some states, an age requirement is needed for children to stand as witnesses.

They are called upon to testify in cases like neglect, custody or sexual abuse. Competency and credibility are very important, thus a child must have enough intelligence to understand the difference between the truth and a lie. Moreover, he or she should be able to remember and explain events correctly. However, the reliability of a child witness can be influenced by the adult who questions him. A judge decides whether the child witness is credible and the child may undergo psychological assessment (Lawyers. com, 2008). According to Marsil (et.

al. , 2002), the increase in the number of children witnessing in court has brought about practical and legal problems for the judicial system. One of these problems is the issue of protecting children from undergoing the psychological trauma as a result of a confrontation with a defendant who may have physically harmed the child or has threatened to harm him or her. Moreover, the judicial system was faced with the problem that the child’s trauma may weaken his memory performance and his compliance to detail his experience.

To solve these conflicts, child innovations were developed in the United States during 1980 to 1990. One of these changes is the use of closed-circuit television for the child’s testimony instead of in-court testimony. This differs, however, from place to place. There are states wherein the defendant, the defense attorney, the judge, the prosecutor and the child are all in one room. There are also states wherein the child’s testimony is shown in a local television cable while the participants are in the courtroom. Another innovation is using videotaped depositions. Interviews or statements may also be videotaped.

This, however, is different from one state to another (Cowling, n. d. ). Effects of the State of Mental Health Offenders The United States has seen the rise in the number of individuals with mental illnesses. In 2000 alone, the prevalence of offenders annually admitted to jails is 7 percent, an estimate of 700,000 persons. The Bureau of Justice Statistics has reported that from those who are already in prison, 16%, or 233,000 are diagnosed with mental illness (Arons, 2002). The state of a mentally ill offender has an effect in his or her verdict (Moormeister, 2006).

A county judge in Nevada said that the lack of treatment for mentally ill offenders kept him from handing out the sentence for a woman who planned to kill her husband. The offender was Erzsebet Racine who has a bipolar disorder. She was arrested for trying to hire a hit man to kill her husband. She was jailed, but the justice system in Nevada County was still figuring out what to do with the offender. The effect of the state of mentally ill offenders can be seen on the prosecution of their cases, and handing out of verdict and sentencing.

A judge may postpone or defer a case until the offender has completed a treatment program. Usually, by that time the criminal charges are dismissed (Lamb et. al, 1999). There are also difficulties in prosecuting because it must be determined first if the offender is not guilty by reason of insanity, incompetent to proceed or guilty but mentally ill. Likewise, it will be difficult for judges to hand out the sentence as they have to consider the state of the prisoner. The community can offer rehabilitation for the offender. Some states also offer psychological treatments for mentally ill offenders.

There is also a non-forensic psychiatric treatment which aims to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness. The Voir Dire Process The voir dire has a very important role in the selection of the jury. During the process, prospective jurors will be determined if they are fit to serve on the jury through a set of questions. Based on the jurors’ answers, they will be dismissed or accepted for the jury. According to Tuerkheimer (2006), juror should need to remain focused and engaged. Thus, it is important that lawyers and trial judge, who are responsible for questioning jurors, to keep their focus.

It is important that jurors are not put off by the combative demeanor of the lawyers. Moreover, lawyers must be sensitive to the needs of jurors, as they sometimes feel awkward with questions or by the lawyers’ attitude. Tuerkheimer (2006) states that voir dire is the best chance for the lawyers to “bond with the panel. ” He adds that during the early phases of voir dire, jurors form their first impressions. A lawyer will know that the jury selection is efficient and successful when he knows the jurors that will be “negatively” disposed to his case.

However, other lawyers see voir dire as their least favorite part of the trial process. They flourish on the adversarial nature of courtroom trials. But succeeding in jury selection needs a different approach. Lawyers must not resort to combative or aggressive questions if they want to connect with the jury. The voir dire process is done with an introductory phase. To ensure a successful voir dire, the mood and tone for the trial must be properly and responsibly set. To connect with the jurors, a lawyer must allow the jurors to express their opinions and ideas, feelings and attitudes toward something.

This entire process will serve as a learning experience for both parties (Hirschhorn & Schreiber, 2006). Tuerkheimer (2006) claims that open-ended questions are more appropriate during the voir dire. This way, the jurors can best express themselves. Lawyers must begin with “easy” open-ended questions to set the mood. It is important, though, to know that there is no right or wrong answer to the questions. Johnston (2003) adds that questions about the attitudes of jurors should be case-related and their experiences must be incorporated in voir dire. A lawyer can give the

In some way, the jurors’ personality and demographic characteristics influence the verdict. They will create a verdict that is based on testimonies or evidences presented. However, there are times when a juror will be influenced by a personal experience that is similar to the case. This might impair the judgment on what should be the right and reasonable verdict. References Arons, B. S. (2000). Mental health and criminal justice. Assistant Secretary for Legislation. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. hhs. gov/asl/testify/t000921a. html Cowling, A. (n. d. ). Basic laws specific to false allegations of abuse cases.

Cowling Investigations. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. allencowling. com/basiclaw. htm Hirschhorn, B. & S. M. Schreiber. (2006). How to conduct a meaningful and effective 30-minute voir dire. Texas Young Lawyers Association. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. tyla. org/newsitem_detail. cfm? NewsItemID=261 Johnston, J. (2003). The role of emotions in punitive damage decisions. Lexis One. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. lexisone. com/balancing/articles/srnov2003. html Jones, C. M. (2005). Genetic and environmental influences on criminal behavior.

Rochester Institute of Technology. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. personalityresearch. org/papers/jones. html Lamb, R. H. , L. E. Weinberger, and B. H. Gross. (1999). Community treatment of severely mentally ill offenders under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system, A review. Psychiatric Services, 50, 907-913. Lawyers. com. (2008). Child witnesses. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://research. lawyers. com/Child-Witnesses. html Marsil, D. F. , J. Montoya, D. Ross, and L. Graham. (2002). Child witness policy: Law interfacing with social science.

Law and Contemporary Problems, 65(1), 209. Milder, J. (n. d. ). Is crime in the genes? Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. digitas. harvard. edu/~perspy/old/issues/1995/nov/crimegen. html Moormeister, R. (2006). Judge stymied on sentencing of murder plot case. The Union. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. theunion. com/article/20060812/NEWS/108120164/-1/rss02 Ramsland, K. (2008). Criminal Profiling: Part 1 History and method. Tru Crime Library. Retrieved November 18, 2008, from http://www. trutv. com/library/crime/criminal_mind/profiling/history_method/index. html

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