Bringing a psychology expert into your criminal case can be a mixed bag. Many positive things can happen when engaging such an expert, but there are also many pitfalls to avoid. Generally, a well-prepared expert can be a great boon to your case, but beware of potential vices that may be lurking inside their testimony. Here are a few things to watch out for:
- Pros – Expertise: It’s no secret your expert knows a lot of information, they are well educated and well-spoken. They bring a myriad of positive attributes to the courtroom: 1) Reliability: experts are seen as professionals and sometimes scientists who base their conclusions on fact and are therefore reliable. 2) Psychology experts know statistics and based their reports and testimony on data gleaned from the real world. 3) Test – your psychological expert knows psychological testing, its benefits and weaknesses. Make sure to use your expert to attack the ‘reliability’ of the opposing party’s evidence, as opposed to its credibility.
- Pro – Experience: Your expert knows about pop culture psychological references and phone or even sham psychological syndromes that may be introduced by opposing counsel. Use your expert to debunk these misconceptions. Also, emphasize that your expert has a long history of education and training. This is not their first “rodeo”. Have the demonstrate the similarities between your case and cases the expert has dealt with in the, have them discuss what techniques opposing counsel is likely to use and why.
- Pro-The Social Play: Psychology experts understand the social nature of testimony, how people (including a jury) may respond to how the expert frames certain answers. It’s best if the expert takes the role of “teacher” and tries to educate the jury, using simple words and avoiding any kind of jargon that will put off the jurors.
- Pro-The Sleuth: Many psychology experts know investigative procedures, and the common pitfalls that plague them. User your expert to review any investigations and then attack the opposing party’s investigation on ground of reliability.
- Pro-Kindness: Your expert knows how those who may be ill, or have emotional problems, are treated and eventually lead better lives. There are potential problems with certain treatments however. Some treatment requires rehearsing damaging events, thus potentially affecting a subject’s memory.
- Con – Expertise! Finding someone with whom you’re impressed always feels good and seems like a good idea, but is this really the right approach for your case? Can this expert actually ‘help’? Be careful of a knee-jerk reaction to engage an expert before carefully examining the exact problems that witness will solve in your case.
- Con – Don’t Hold Back: Never withhold damaging evidence from an expert. It’s likely they can mitigate the severity of the evidence with counter-evidence. Also, withholding will likely create a huge surprise for your expert during cross examination, effectively destroying their credibility and all of your hard-fought preparation with the witness.
- Con-Bias: Your expert will understand bias based on their training and field experience. But bias is also a two-way street, opposing counsel will attack your expert on grounds of bias (e.g. they’re being paid a fee for their testimony). Address these bias concerns on direct and attack the opposing expert if there is bias evidence (e.g. appearing more for one side than the other).
- Con – Planning: Don’t wait until that last minute to engage an expert. Careful thought and planning are required and these take time.
Engaging a Psychology expert can be helpful and a winning strategy for your case, just make sure to follow the tips above to ensure a successful strategy.