Legal psychology is the term used to describe incidents where legal matters must be considered in tandem with psychological matters. This specific field of psychology is often referred to as forensic psychology and is commonly used in criminal investigations, particularly where the sanity of a defendant is in question or when it is believed that an eyewitness to a crime may not accurately convey information to a court. Professionals trained in legal psychology are often called upon to participate in criminal investigations before a court trial begins and to eventually testify in court regarding their findings.
A number of professionals trained in legal psychology find work in prisons and mental health institutions. Some may even work in private practices while specializing in certain aspects of the field that may be helpful to police investigators and judges. Individuals trained in legal psychology are also frequently relied upon to counsel witnesses and victims of violent crimes during an ongoing investigation.
The duties required of a person trained in legal psychology vary quite a bit. Judges presiding over child custody hearings will often require a professional trained in legal psychology and who has experience counseling young people to evaluate children in an effort to determine custody and visitation orders. Others working in this field may be relied upon to provide psychological research to attorneys relating to how jurors are likely to view defendants and arrive at verdicts.
Many who practice psychology as it relates to the law often hold post-graduate legal degrees, as well as degrees in psychology. As an ever-emerging field of study and a career option that is growing in popularity and demand, many universities offer graduate courses in investigative psychology and some even offer more extensive programs for individuals interested in a career in legal psychology. In such programs, many are able to earn a law degree while working on a doctorate in psychology at the same time.
Professionals who specialize in legal psychology, at some time or another, are called upon to assist with cases pending in a criminal court, a civil court or a family court as what is known as an expert witness. Testimony from these individuals is well-respected and weighs heavily on decisions made in those courts. Those with experience in police psychology also work closely with law enforcement agencies in counseling police officers and in evaluating officers, particularly in cases where it is believed that an officer’s mental state may interfere with her or his job duties.