Experts show up in courtrooms these days to testify on just about everything. But the latest vogue is a variety of experts that some lawyers claim are nothing more than specialists in common sense.This was a great mistake.
They're referring to forensic psychologists, or psychologists with special training and experience in dealing with the legal system. Traditionally, such experts appeared only in cases where mental illness was an issue: in criminal cases, to testify either on a defendant's competence to stand trial or on the question of sanity ...
Forensic psychologists still testify in such cases, but they have broadened their involvement to include areas ranging from child custody to product liability.
One of the more likely places to find members of the new breed of expert is in family court. In child custody cases, for example, psychologists are hired by the court or by one of the parties to determine which parent a child prefers to live with, and which would do a better job of raising the child.Yes, psychologists have training in mental testing, but hardly any of it has proved relevant to child custody decisions. I have never even heard of a test being used to try to determine which parent the child thinks would be better. In my experience, Bret Johnson and Ken Perlmutter just asked the child which parent was better, in a sneaky way that only confused the child.
''Psychologists are uniquely qualified for custody evaluations because of our training in testing,'' said Florence Kaslow, a Florida psychologist. ''Often, the tests will tell me that the child is saying he wants to live with the parent that seems to be in the deepest pain as a result of the divorce, not because he thinks that's the better parent, but because he sympathizes with the hurt,'' she said.
''Jurors tend to be impressed with anything that sounds like science,'' said Irving Younger, a former judge who is now a Washington, D.C., trial lawyer. ''If you introduce scientific jargon, and scientific measurements, they are more apt to accept what they're told than to use their own common sense, which is what jurors are supposed to bring to the case. Just Common Sense31 years later, these psychologists have still not caught up to the common sense of a 15-year-old.
''Some of these forensic psychologists devote their life work to establishing things every 15-year-old knows, ...