PSY 545: Final Project Guidelines and Rubric
The final project for this course is the creation of a case analysis.
Forensic psychologists are often consulted regarding or assigned to difficult and complex cases that require careful and evidenced-based approaches to obtaining
information for court proceedings. For example, forensic psychologists are frequently appointed by the court to assess a defendant's competence to stand trial,
or they might be asked to make recommendations in a child custody case after conducting a forensic evaluation.
Imagine that you are working with a forensic psychologist assigned to a legal case. In this assistant role, you are tasked with providing support and constructing
suggestions on how to proceed with the evaluation and making recommendations to the court. Your recommendations will be based on theory and research, as
well as on the current trends and changes within the discipline itself.
You will choose one out of four scenarios listed in the Case Scenarios section in this document and evaluate your chosen case in an effort to help the assigned
forensic psychologist implement effective, evidence-based approaches to deliver professionally sound recommendations to the court.
Each case scenario concludes with a set of “Framing Questions” that will help guide you in identifying the implications and ramifications specific to your selected
The project is divided into four milestones, which will be submitted at various points throughout the course to scaffold learning and ensure quality final
submissions. These milestones will be submitted in Modules Two, Four, Six, and Eight. The final submission is in Module Nine.
In this assignment, you will demonstrate your mastery of the following course outcomes:
Apply the scientific method to the practice of forensic psychology within the criminal justice system
Evaluate dominant psychological explanations and theories of crime and delinquent behavior for informing the creation of appropriate and effective
evidence-based approaches and strategies
Develop evidence-based approaches and strategies for administering effective forensic evaluations to the criminally mentally ill and socially deviant
Assess the extent to which the role of ethics in various forensic scenarios influences decision-making processes consistent with the code of conduct in the
field of psychology
Assess the extent to which the role of diversity influences the effective delivery of forensic-related services, while maintaining the integrity of practice
and high standard of professionalism
Your case analysis should answer the following question: Based your evaluation of the case and utilizing the framing questions outlined at the conclusion of
each scenario, what are your suggested approaches and strategies for administering an efficient forensic evaluation of the client(s)?
The sections of your paper should be presented in the same order as the critical elements below.
Specifically, the following critical elements must be addressed:
a) What case scenario will you be analyzing?
b) Outline the key facts of the case.
c) Overall, what are issues your assigned forensic psychologist would address in this scenario? Based on the scenario, what are the needs of the
client? The defense team? The court?
d) Include any other information that will establish a robust context for analyzing and evaluating the case.
Evaluate the case scenario, applying the scientific methodology from the course. Remember, you are not stating opinions; you are breaking down this
case through the lens of the scientific method. Walk through the scenario applying specific scientific methodology. In other words, determine which
specific scientific methodology (e.g., forensic interviewing, psychological assessments, psycho-social assessments, the administering of psychological
testing, court report writing) applies to the scenario.
a) How can previous research help your assigned forensic psychologist with developing evidence-based approaches and providing effective services
to clients within the scenario?
b) Select a psychological theory that would help inform the forensic psychologist’s eventual decisions and recommendations in this case. In other
words, provide a rationale that supports the approach as it relates to the specific scenario.
c) Based on the scientific methodology(s) that you identified in Section II, what best practices or approaches would you recommend to ensure that
they are effectively implemented in the particular scenario?
For instance, what recommendations would you make to the assigned forensic psychologist to ensure that the client maintains the limit
of confidentiality? How would you determine the client’s level of cognition with regard to the forensic psychologist’s involvement? Note:
These are guiding questions. You should address other best practices as they relate to your scenario.
Role of Ethics
a) Assess the forensic psychologist’s role relative to the potential ethical implications or ramifications in the scenario. For instance, what is the
importance of maintaining objectivity or maintaining the role of professionalism? Substantiate your claims, referencing the Ethical Principles for
Psychologists and Code of Conduct.
b) Assess the potential risks associated with implementing forensic psychology practices specific to the scenario. For example, are there personal
biases that would impact the forensic psychologist’s ability to be objective and fair in this scenario?
c) What is your recommended course of action regarding the risks you identified, demonstrating your adherence to high ethical standards in
working with all relevant parties in the scenario?
For instance, how do forensic psychologists still work clinically with defendants when they would be required to release information
obtained in an individual therapy session? Or what would be the ethical implications for forensic psychologists working on a case in
which they are privy to unethical behavior being engaged in on the part of other court officials?
Implications of Diversity
a) What are the implications of diversity (e.g., race, gender) on the effective delivery of forensic-related services relative to the scenario? Overall,
what are the drawbacks to being insensitive to and not culturally aware of differences when working with clients?
b) How would you address issues of diversity in your selected scenario? In other words, what are your recommendations to the assigned forensic
psychologist, ensuring that the psychologist will maintain the integrity of practice and high standard of professionalism?
c) What steps are needed to ensure that best practices in addressing cultural competency are considered when providing services to clients of
varying cultures and backgrounds?
a) Working as an assistant to the forensic psychologist, what preparation is needed to effectively serve as an officer of the court, as it relates to the
specific scenario? In other words, what practices would you employ to effectively prepare for giving official testimony before the court?
b) Based on the facts of the case scenario and the framing questions outlined at the conclusion of the case, what approaches and strategies do you
recommend for implementation? How do these strategies adhere to policies and procedures of practicing forensic psychologists? Substantiate
your claims with scholarly research.
Capital Punishment Sentencing (Competency Evaluations)
Mr. Davis, a Muslim who immigrated to this country five years ago, has a long history of psychiatric hospitalizations related to his diagnosis of paranoid
schizophrenia. His delusions revolve around the belief that uniformed spies have been sent to execute him. He reports auditory and visual hallucinations when
not on his medication. He was arrested for trespassing after he was found sleeping in the delivery shed of a warehouse.
During his stay in jail, he was put on antipsychotic medications and was released for time served after spending 45 days in jail. Upon his release, he returned to
living on the streets and stopped taking his medications. While sleeping on a park bench, he was assaulted by several youths who hit and kicked him, leaving him
on the ground but with no serious injuries. Mr. Davis was convinced that the juveniles who assaulted him were spies who would later return to assassinate him.
He found a 17-inch pipe and hid in the shadows the remainder of the evening, fearing for his life. In the early morning, he saw two uniformed youths
approaching him, a 12-year-old boy and his 14-year-old brother, who were on their way to a Boy Scout meeting. Mr. Davis ran up behind the boys and started
swinging the pipe wildly, screaming that they would never take him alive. He struck the 12-year-old in the head, causing severe brain trauma. The 14-year-old
was able to flee, but only after receiving a blow in the face. Mr. Davis returned to the 12-year-old and bludgeoned him to death.
He was still hitting the lifeless body when the police arrived. As soon as the police arrived, he dropped the pipe and sat in silence as he was subdued. He was
found incompetent to stand trial and was committed to a state hospital. After eight months of pharmacological treatment, he was found competent, and tried
and convicted of capital murder.
In most jurisdictions, mitigating circumstances are that the offender was, at the time of the offense, (1) under extreme emotional or mental distress, and (2)
substantially unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his act or conform his behavior to the requirements of the law.
Aggravating circumstances are that (1) the crime was committed in a wanton, atrocious, and cruel manner, and (2) the offender has the probability of
committing criminal acts in the future.
In this case, you are working as an assistant to a forensic psychologist hired by the defense to assist during the sentencing phase. In this role, you will have to
help prepare testimony that would support the position of the defense attorney regarding the defendant’s competence, emotional stability at the time of the
crime, and his ability to fully understand the consequences associated with his sentence.
1. What role do the mitigating and aggravating circumstances play in capital sentencing?
2. Competency evaluations: If you were asked to disagree with the findings in the competency evaluation previously administered, what evidence could
you use to counter the recommendations included in the psychological evaluation?
3. What approach would you take in assessing and working with a Muslim who may have encountered racism in this country due to his religion and
The Eggshell Defendant (Assessment of Psychological Injury)
Kathy Hall has had several episodes of clinical depression, the first one when she was 14 years old and the most recent one a year ago. She is currently 34 years
old and takes an antidepressant at a prophylactic dose to prevent a fourth clinical depression episode. She has a high school education and no additional formal
training. During her last job, she earned minimum wage.
Kathy spends one day a week volunteering at her community library. The library was renovating one of the reading rooms and asked volunteers to help out with
minor construction, painting, and clean-up. One of the city employees had just finished using a glass pitcher to store a caustic cleanser used to remove glue and
paint from wood surfaces. During the busy clean-up, a young child asked Kathy for a drink of water. Unknowingly, Kathy mistook the pitcher of cleanser for
water and poured the child a glass. As a result, the child suffered serious burns throughout her mouth and down her throat.
Kathy is not held liable for the mistake, but the city is sued since the cleanser was placed in the pitcher by a city employee. The family of the child wins a $4
million lawsuit against the city. After the incident, Kathy experienced an episode of clinical depression and blamed herself for the accident.
City law allows the city to seek compensation from individuals whose actions result in significant financial loss to the city. Based on this law, the city initiates a
lawsuit against Kathy. The defense against the lawsuit and reliving the experience causes further emotional harm to Kathy.
The court appoints a forensic psychologist on this case to conduct a personal injury evaluation on Kathy, and you are hired by the forensic psychologist to assist
him on this case.
1. What are some of the issues you may face during this evaluation?
2. Identify what harm that Kathy suffered is compensable. What standard for compensable damages would be applicable to this case?
3. How should the evaluation be conducted? What instruments should be used and what collateral sources of information, if any, should be pursued?
4. How might the fact that this client does not have any formal education and is currently unemployed affect how others will perceive her?
A King Solomon’s Solution? (Child Custody Evaluation)
Kim and Halle met at a “Parents Without Partners” picnic. Halle, of Native American descent, was two years past a divorce and had her three children, all girls
under seven years old, for the weekend. A friend suggested that she attend the picnic so that the children might have some friends to play with, while Halle
interacted with other adults.
Kim, who is African American, had a four-year-old son and was never married. She was dating a man and had an unplanned pregnancy. She did not want to
marry the father and decided to raise the child on her own. The father of the boy has not been involved in his life.
Halle and Kim hit it off at the picnic and had a commitment ceremony 18 months after meeting. Both Halle and Kim love children and decided to have more of
their own through in vitro fertilization. Kim made the decision to raise the children and gave up her career as a pharmacist, while Halle, who owns a consulting
business, could easily support the family. Halle and Kim have two additional children within the first five years of marriage. Halle continues to have weekend
custody/visitation with her three children from her previous marriage, while they spend one month during the summer with the new family.
However, after seven years of marriage, Halle decides she wants a divorce and wishes to remarry her first wife. Kim is taken totally by surprise and learns that
Halle has been having an affair with her ex-partner throughout the past three years of their marriage. Halle wants to have full custody of the two children she
had with Kim, along with Kim’s first son, who developed a strong attachment to Halle and thinks of Halle as his biological mother. Halle and her first partner file
for full custody of all the children and threaten a long, drawn-out court battle. Kim countersues for shared custody of Halle’s three girls, since she and the girls
have established a family bond.
Note: The children involved in this case include Halle’s three girls from her previous marriage, Kim’s first son from her relationship, and Halle and Kim’s two
The court appoints a forensic psychologist to conduct a child custody evaluation and make child custody recommendations to the court, and you are hired by the
forensic psychologist to assist him on this case.
1. What type of custody arrangement should be made based upon the information above?
2. What other information would be important to gather?
3. How did you reach your decision? What standards did you consider in reaching your decisions?
4. Do you notice any personal biases swaying your decision?
5. What might be considered in this case when working with a gay or lesbian couple relative to custody, the courts and society, as a whole?
6. What might be considered in this case relative to working with clients of varying cultures and backgrounds?
Can You Point Out the Person You Saw in the Park? (Eye Witness Memory and Recovered Memory)
In September 2011, an 11-year-old girl vacationing with her family at a large amusement park is reported missing. Due to confusion between the parents, with
each parent thinking that the other parent was with the girl, the child was missing for approximately 45 minutes before authorities were notified. Once notified,
park officials placed security at all park exits. Security watched for the girl as well as questioned patrons leaving the park regarding any unusual behavior they
may have witnessed. Nearly 20 patrons reported seeing a young girl who fit the child’s description with a man leaving the park. These individuals are asked for
contact information. As the day ends and the park closes, the girl is still missing. Park officials conduct a thorough search of the park and find the girl’s body in a
dumpster in a remote section of the park near a service entrance. It appears that the girl was sexually assaulted.
Police contact patrons who offered earlier information in hopes of developing a composite sketch of the suspect. Of the 20 patrons who were contacted, only
three were able to accurately identify the girl in a photo array with a photograph supplied by the parents. Eight of the patrons reported that the suspect
appeared to be a Latino male, whereas four suggested the suspect was African American. The police artist, using computer software, generates a sketch. Fifteen
of the patrons agree that the sketch resembles the man they saw. The police publicize the sketch on the evening news, asking for any information. Within the
following three weeks, they receive approximately 200 leads. Only five of the leads result in individuals who were at the park on the day of the crime, based on
surveillance videos from the entrance and exit of the park.
The detective in charge of the case recognizes that the only evidence the police have is eyewitness evidence, because there were issues with DNA collection and
other physical evidence being obtained. The detective also realizes that the eyewitnesses presented conflicting information. She decides that in order to obtain a
conviction of the guilty individual, she will need to meticulously handle any eyewitness accounts placing any of the five subjects with the girl on the day of the
The detective contacts you and asks for your consultation on the case and for your suggestions as to how to obtain the most accurate and convincing eyewitness
1. What procedures would you implement in this situation?
2. Discuss how the eyewitness identification should be conducted, including format, number and appearance of foils or opportunities for error, feedback,
individuals present, and interaction among witnesses.
3. How would you prepare for testifying in court if you are called by the prosecution and/or the defense?
4. How does race come into play here? Is there something to be said about how some eyewitnesses immediately suggested that the suspect was Latino,
while others believed he was African American?
Milestone One: Introduction to Case Analysis (Draft of Section I)
In Module Two, you will submit a two- to three-page paper. In the paper, discuss which case scenario you will be analyzing. Also include an outline of the key
facts of the case, and discuss the issues that your assigned forensic psychologist should address in the chosen scenario. Discuss the needs of the client, the
defense team, and the court. Finally, include any other information that will be used to establish context for analyzing and evaluating the case.
This milestone is graded with the Milestone One Rubric. The feedback provided by the instructor should be applied to your final case analysis.
Milestone Two: Methodology and Theory (Draft of Sections II ...
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