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Psychological Evaluations for the Courts

Fourth Edition
A Handbook for Mental Health Professionals and Lawyers

Gary B. Melton, John Petrila, Norman G. Poythress, Christopher Slobogin, Randy K. Otto, Douglas Mossman, and Lois O. Condie

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December 22, 2017
ISBN 9781462532667
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964 Pages
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Tens of thousands of readers have relied on this leading text and practitioner reference—now revised and updated—to understand the issues the legal system most commonly asks mental health professionals to address. The volume demystifies the forensic psychological assessment process and provides guidelines for participating effectively and ethically in legal proceedings. Presented are clinical and legal concepts and evidence-based assessment procedures pertaining to criminal and civil competencies, the insanity defense and related doctrines, sentencing, civil commitment, personal injury claims, antidiscrimination laws, child custody, juvenile justice, and other justice-related areas. Case examples, exercises, and a glossary facilitate learning; 19 sample reports illustrate how to conduct and write up thorough, legally admissible evaluations.

New to This Edition

“A comprehensive, useful analysis of an array of topics relevant to forensic mental health practice.”

Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (on the third edition)

“An authoritative text in the field of forensic psychology.”

International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology (on the third edition)

“Offers a comprehensive discussion of forensic assessment along with best practice guidelines for psychological evaluations in a wide range of criminal and civil proceedings.”

Juvenile and Family Court Journal (on the third edition)

“If you perform forensic evaluations for a living, you need this book.”

Journal of Psychiatric Practice (on the third edition)

“An indispensable and authoritative reference work....Serves as a wide-ranging reference tool and a mechanism to survey the broader field....Belongs on the bookshelf of every forensic psychology practitioner and mental health lawyer.”

The National Psychologist (on the third edition)

“A great resource for practicing psychologists and graduate students preparing for mental health practice....This is a highly recommended resource for mental health professionals who will inevitably be in contact with the legal system.”

The Master's Advocate (on the third edition)

“This is a fully updated edition of the best textbook designed for both forensic clinicians and attorneys. It is the 'go-to' book for scholarly analysis of forensic issues and sophisticated, practical advice.”

—Phillip J. Resnick, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Director of Forensic Psychiatry, Case Western Reserve University

“This text has made an extraordinary contribution to forensic mental health assessment and informed legal decision making over the last 30 years. The fourth edition remains the most comprehensive, legally sophisticated, and scientifically sound single volume available to forensic practitioners, legal professionals, policymakers, researchers, and scholars, and continues to serve as an essential guide to the field. It is highly appropriate for any graduate-level class in forensic assessment (I use it in mine), as well as internship or fellowship seminars. I would also use it if I were training psychiatrists at the fellowship level.”

—Kirk Heilbrun, PhD, Department of Psychology, Drexel University

“Long a canonical work, this fourth edition fully captures the last decade's explosive growth in what courts expect of mental health experts. Seamlessly meshing scientific rigor, legal precision, and clinical acumen, this is the one book to read if there is a witness stand in your future. The goalposts for scholarship in forensic psychology have just been moved.”

—John Monahan, PhD, Shannon Distinguished Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry, University of Virginia

“This handbook is remarkable for its scope, as well as its detailed and critical analysis of the relevant legal, scientific, and clinical literature. The fourth edition does not disappoint—it has been revised and updated to once again cement its place as the standard by which all others in the field are measured. For mental health trainees and professionals who want to learn about conducting forensic assessments, and for legal trainees and professionals who need to learn about research and practice in forensic psychology, there is simply no better reference.”

—Stephen D. Hart, PhD, Department of Psychology, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

“Continuing the tradition of this comprehensive reference, the fourth edition offers encyclopedic coverage of mental health issues relevant to the criminal and civil courts, and can help both mental health professionals and attorneys address these matters more effectively. The volume makes extensive use of case law and case material throughout. It includes an entire chapter of sample reports and accompanying discussions addressing substantive legal issues.”

—Glenn J. Larrabee, PhD, ABPP-CN, independent practice, Sarasota, Florida

“A 'must read' for any student preparing for a career in forensic mental health. The fourth edition maintains the original structure and readability while providing a review of up-to-the-minute research and scholarly discussions relevant to all aspects of psycholegal evaluations. It is the most practical, user-friendly, and comprehensive forensic mental health book on the market. I have used this text in a graduate-level Psychology and Law class and as required reading for my practicum students working in corrections and assisting me with forensic evaluations.”

—Robert D. Morgan, PhD, Chair and John G. Skelton Jr. Regents Endowed Professor, Department of Psychological Sciences, Texas Tech University

Table of Contents

I. General Considerations

1. Law and the Mental Health Professions: An Uneasy Alliance

1.01. The Context for Law and Behavioral Science

1.02. Some Preliminary Problems in Law and Mental Health

1.03. Paradigm Conflicts

1.04. Should Mental Health Professionals Be Considered Experts?

1.05. Which Professionals Should Be Considered Experts?

1.06. Conclusion


2. An Overview of the Legal System: Sources of Law, the Court System, and the Adjudicative Process

2.01. Introduction

2.02. Sources of Law

2.03. The Court System

2.04. The Adjudicative Process

2.05. Conclusion: The Interplay of Systems


3. The Nature and Method of Forensic Assessment

3.01. Introduction

3.02. Distinctions between Therapeutic and Forensic Assessment

3.03. Testing and Assessment Procedures

3.04. Archival and Third-Party Information

3.05. Amnesia

3.06. Assessment of Response Style

3.07. Challenges to the Basis of Expert Testimony

3.08. Conclusion


4. Constitutional, Common-Law, and Ethical Contours of the Evaluation Process: The Mental Health Professional as Double Agent

4.01. Introduction

4.02. The Fifth Amendment and the Right to Remain Silent

4.03. The Right to Counsel

4.04. Common-Law and Statutory Duties of the Evaluator

4.05. Ethical Considerations in the Evaluation Process

4.06. Summary: Competence in Forensic Practice


5. Managing Public and Private Forensic Services

5.01. Introduction

5.02. The Case for Specialization

5.03. Types of Evaluation Systems

5.05. Effective Diffusion of Behavioral Science Research

5.06. Operating a Forensic Practice


II. The Criminal Process

6. Competence to Proceed

6.01. Introduction

6.02. The Legal Standard

6.03. Procedural Issues

6.04. Disposition of Incompetent Defendants

6.05. Competence during Proceedings Other Than Trial or Plea Hearings

6.06. Research Relating to Competence Evaluations

6.07. Structured Evaluation Formats

6.08. Special Populations

6.09. Guidelines for Evaluation

6.10. Conclusion


7. Other Competencies in the Criminal Process

7.01. Introduction

7.02. Competence to Consent to a Search or Seizure

7.03. Competence to Exercise the Right to Remain Silent

7.04. Competence to Plead Guilty

7.05. Competence to Waive the Right to Counsel and to Represent Oneself

7.06. Competence to Refuse an Insanity Defense and Other Mental State Defenses

7.07. Competence to Testify

7.08. Competence to Be Executed and to Participate in and Waive Appeals


8. Mental State at the Time of the Offense

8.01. Introduction

8.02. The Insanity Defense

8.03. Exculpatory and Mitigating Doctrines Other Than Insanity

8.04. Research on the Relationship of Diagnosis to MSO Defenses

8.05. Characteristics of Clinicians’ MSO Opinions

8.06. MSO Investigation

8.07. Clinical Formulations about MSO

8.08. Conclusion


9. Sentencing

9.01. Introduction

9.02. A Brief History of Sentencing

9.03. A Comparison of Rehabilitative and Retributive Sentencing

9.04. Special Sentencing Provisions

9.05. Capital Sentencing

9.06. Factors Influencing Sentencing

9.07. Assessment of Treatment Needs

9.08. Assessment of Culpability

9.09. Assessing Risk of Violence and Recidivism


III. Noncriminal Adjudication

10. Civil Commitment

10.01. Introduction

10.02. History of Commitment Law

10.03. Substantive Criteria for Commitment

10.04. Procedural Due Process

10.05. The Effects of Commitment Laws and Commitment

10.06. Attorney’s Role

10.07. Clinician’s Role

10.08. Commitment Evaluation

10.09. The Process of the Evaluation

10.10. Special Commitment Settings and Populations


11. Civil Competencies

11.01. Introduction

11.02. Guardianship

11.03. Competence to Make Treatment Decisions

11.04. Competence to Consent to Research

11.05. Testamentary Capacity


12. Compensating Mental Injury: Workers’ Compensation and Torts

12.01. Introduction

12.02. Workers’ Compensation Law: An Overview

12.03. The Tort of Emotional Distress

12.04. Causation in Mental Injury Cases: A Paradigm Clash?

12.05. Clinical Evaluation of Mental Injury

12.06. Conclusion: Reports and Testimony


13. Federal Antidiscrimination, Entitlement, and Immigration Laws

13.01. Introduction

13.02. Americans with Disabilities Act

13.03. Fair Housing Amendments Act

13.04. Social Security Laws

13.05. Immigration Law

13.06. Conclusion


IV. Children and Families

14. Juvenile Delinquency

14.01. Introduction

14.02. The Rise and Fall of the “Therapeutic” Juvenile Court

14.03. The Nature of the Juvenile Process

14.04. The Mental Health Professional’s Role in Juvenile Court

14.05. The Nature of the Evaluation

14.06. Specific Areas of Treatment Evaluations

14.07. Special Juvenile Populations

14.08. Do the Mental Health and Juvenile Systems Belong Together?


15. Child Abuse and Neglect

15.01. The Nature of Abuse and Neglect Proceedings

15.02. Legal Definitions of Child Maltreatment

15.03. Child Maltreatment as a Clinical Phenomenon

15.04. Clinicians’ Involvement in the Legal Process

15.05. Special Populations

15.06. The Technique of Abuse/Neglect Evaluations

15.07. Adult Cases Related to Abuse and Neglect

16. Child Custody in Divorce

16.01. The Scope of Clinicians’ Involvement in Custody Disputes

16.02. Standards for Resolution of Custody Disputes

16.03. What Do We Know?

16.04. The Technique of Custody Evaluations

16.05. The Politics of Divorce


17. Education and Habilitation

17.01. Introduction

17.02. The Impetus for the IDEA

17.03. The Structure of the IDEA

17.04. Clinical Evaluation under the Act


V. Communicating with the Courts

18. Consultation, Report Writing, and Expert Testimony

18.01. Introduction

18.02. Preliminary Consultations

18.03. Data Collection, Maintenance, and Disclosure

18.04. Preliminary Report of Findings

18.05. Report Writing

18.06. Expert Testimony and the Social Psychology of Persuasion

18.07. The Ultimate-Issue Issue


19. Sample Reports

19.01. Introduction

19.02. Competence to Proceed

19.03. Competence to Plead and Waive Rights

19.04. Mental State at the Time of the Offense

19.05. Sentencing

19.06. Civil Commitment

19.07. Competence to Handle Finances

19.08. Workers’ Compensation for Mental Injury

19.09. Reasonable Accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act

19.10. Consultative Examination for Social Security

19.11. Immigration Status

19.12. Transfer to Adult Court

19.13. Dispositional Review

19.14. Custody

19.15. Evaluation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

20. Glossary

20.01. Legal Terms

20.02. Clinical and Research Terms



About the Authors

Gary B. Melton, PhD, is Associate Director for Community Development and Social Policy at the Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, Professor of Pediatrics, and Professor of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. He is also Visiting Professor of Education and Family Medicine at the University of Virginia and Adjunct Professor of Youth, Family, and Community Studies at Clemson University. Dr. Melton has received Distinguished Contributions Awards from the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, the American Psychological Association (four times, a unique achievement), the American Psychological Foundation, and Prevent Child Abuse America, among other organizations. The author of more than 350 publications, he is senior editor of the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry.

John Petrila, JD, LLM, is Vice President of Adult Policy at Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute. Previously, he was Chair and Professor of Health Policy and Management at the University of South Florida College of Public Health. He is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and of the University of South Florida President’s Faculty Excellence Award. Dr. Petrila's research interests include the diversion of people with mental illnesses from the justice system, coercion, and strategies to reduce recidivism of heavy users of the treatment and justice systems. Recent papers focus on emergency hospitalizations of people with mental illnesses, national review of emergency civil commitment legislation, and the current status of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Norman G. Poythress, PhD, is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida, where he served as Research Director from 1990 to 2010. He is a past president of the American Psychology-Law Society, which honored him with its Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology and Law. He is also a recipient of the University of South Florida President’s Faculty Excellence Award. Dr. Poythress has published more than 100 research articles and book chapters on forensic assessment, mental health courts, research ethics, and psychopathic behavior.

Christopher Slobogin, JD, LLM, is Milton Underwood Chair at Vanderbilt University Law School. He is the first law professor to receive Distinguished Contribution Awards from both the American Psychology-Law Society and the American Board of Forensic Psychology. Mr. Slobogin has published over 150 works on mental health law and criminal justice, and is currently one of the 40 most cited law professors in the country. He recently served as chair of the task force revising the American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Mental Health Standards, and was also a Reporter for the ABA’s Task Force on Mental Disability and the Death Penalty.

Randy K. Otto, PhD, ABPP, is Associate Professor in the Department of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida, where he has been on the faculty since 1989. He also teaches in the Departments of Psychology and Criminology. Board-certified in clinical and forensic psychology, Dr. Otto has served as president of the American Psychology-Law Society, the American Board of Forensic Psychology, and the American Board of Professional Psychology. His contributions to forensic psychological assessment have been recognized with awards from the American Academy of Forensic Psychology and the forensic division of the New York State Psychological Association.

Douglas Mossman, MD, until his death in 2018, was Professor of Clinical Psychiatry and Program Director of the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. A board-certified general and forensic psychiatrist and Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Dr. Mossman authored more than 180 publications on diverse issues in medicine and law, including competence, judgment models, malingering measures, psychotropic medication, malpractice, psychiatric ethics, and novel mathematical approaches to diagnostic assessment. He received the American Psychiatric Association’s Manfred S. Guttmacher Award for outstanding contributions to the literature on forensic psychiatry. Hundreds of scientific and legal works cite his 1994 article, "Assessing Predictions of Violence: Being Accurate about Accuracy."

Lois O. Condie, PhD, ABPP, is affiliated with the Department of Neurology at Boston Children’s Hospital and is Assistant Professor of Psychology in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Condie is board-certified in neuropsychology, clinical psychology, and forensic psychology. She has received citations and awards from the Social Security Administration, the American Board of Forensic Psychology, the American Academy of Forensic Psychology, and the American Board of Professional Psychology. Her research focuses on assessments and entitlement legislation for children with neurodevelopmental and other disorders, services for vulnerable populations internationally, psychological and legal conceptions of privacy, and ethics and standards of practice.


Practitioners and students in clinical and forensic psychology, social work, family therapy and counseling, and psychiatry; legal professionals and students.

Course Use

Serves as a text in graduate-level courses such as Forensic Psychology, Psychological Testing, and Social Work and the Law.
Previous editions published by Guilford:

Third Edition, © 2007
ISBN: 9781572309661

Second Edition, © 1997
ISBN: 9781572302365

First Edition, © 1987
ISBN: 9780898622768
New to this edition: