Thursday, December 26, 2019

Forensic Psychiatry & Forensic Psychology as Your Career Option

Dr. Bhoopesh Kumar Sharma
Forensic Expert & Associate Professor

Forensic psychiatry is a specialist medical branch that deals with the evaluation and treatment of mentally disordered prisoners in jails, secure hospitals, and the community. It requires sophisticated understanding of the interface between mental health and the law. 

In other words, Forensic Psychiatry is a medical sub-specialty in which research and clinical experience is applied to legal issues in the form of civil, criminal, correctional or legislative matters: forensic psychiatry should be practiced in compliance with the standards and ethical principles enunciated by the psychiatric profession.

Forensic Psychiatry Vs. Forensic Psychology

Both forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology deal with the human mind. A forensic psychiatrist, however, is a medical doctor who can evaluate and testify about the physical aspects of mental disorders, including their biological basis, psychotherapeutic considerations, and their family and social relationship. We can use laboratory tests and, if necessary, prescribe medicines. 
A forensic psychologist has a Ph.D. in psychology rather than a medical degree. Their specialty may include giving psychological tests and providing psychotherapy and related expertise.

What Forensic Psychiatrist Do?

In the Courts, forensic psychiatrists provide expert witness testimony to courts at all levels on a regular basis. Psychiatrists in other specialties may also have sufficient training to do this, but more commonly, forensic psychiatrists are called to the higher courts–including the courts of the courts or the Court of Appeal in more serious criminal cases such as homicide, other serious violence and sex offenses. They may also be asked for expertise in the family court or on other civil matters, such as compensation after major trauma or disaster. Areas of expertise required include:

  • Fitness of the defendant to plead and fitness for trial
  • Advice for psychiatric protections open to the courts
  • Families can be tested to see if they are fit and able to have their child's physical or legal custody in a divorce.
  • Adequacy and circumstances needed for the admission of a person to the hospital for evaluation
  • Adequacy of the treatment of mental health at the time of sentencing
  • Identify the nature of a specific mental illness and the association with potential risks
  • "Appropriate diagnosis" prognosis and availability

In normal consultation work, Forensic psychiatrists are expected to provide a thorough evaluation including advice on:

  • Risk of harm to others, including the use of formal risk evaluation / professional resources
  • Expertise in approaches to pharmacological and psychological treatment of aggressive mental disorder behaviors
  • Psychodynamic case formulation, psychotherapeutic strategy included
  • Community forensic work provides opportunities in facilities run by Prison and Probation Service and/or third sector agencies to identify and collaborate with mentally disordered prisoners.

How You can Become Forensic Psychiatrist?

1. You need a medical degree specialized in psychiatry
2. You need a medical license or certificate to work
3. Knowledge and understanding of the legal procedures in the country. It is always beneficial to have a diploma or certificate in criminal justice system along with psychiatry degree

Forensic Psychologist:

Forensic psychology is a fascinating career combining psychology with the system of law. Forensic psychologists are generally focused on applying psychological theory and practice to criminal, court and correction systems. Forensic counselors serve to aid in the operation of the justice system and court leaders. Many legal concepts need to be applied to understand psychological principles, such as state of mind, memory, and perception.

How to Become Forensic Psychologist?

1. Either a bachelors degree in criminal justice/forensic with masters in psychology.
2. A bachelors degree in psychology with a masters in forensic science or criminal justice
3. No medical degree required, however a bachelors in medicine with a masters in psychology will work too.
4. An alternative is to major in a law topic and minor in psychology, but some graduate schools accept only candidates with a psychology bachelor's degree.
5. PhD can be an added qualification.
6. License of  clinical or counseling psychologist (depending on the country requirements)

Expert Witness in The Court:

Unlike fact witnesses, who are restricted to testimony about what they know or have learned, expert witnesses have the ability to express opinion because, as their name suggests, they are considered to be "experts" in a certain subject. They possess specialized knowledge about the subject.

Expert witnesses are invited to testify on mental health issues (clinical expertise) or other areas of expertise such as social, experimental, cognitive, or developmental issues. The task of being an expert witness is not primary and is usually performed in tandem with the role of a consultant, educator, evaluator, or clinical psychologist. A defendant is examined by qualified forensic psychologists and then called upon as expert witnesses to testify about the defendant's mental state.

Required Skills:

1. Good Communication Skills : For a forensic psychologist, the ability to express complex ideas is extremely important, because much of what they do is explain things to those who do not grasp a particular concept or theory of psychology.

2. Critical Thinking: Forensic psychologists need to be able to assess a situation or individual–examples include assessing a sexual offender's risk of recurrence, determining a witness's competency, or conducting human memory research. A forensic psychologist must be able to think outside the box and look at issues from unusual perspectives and angles.

3. Observatory Skills: Forensic psychologists must be able to receive information, interpret it, and then present it to the client, whether the client is an attorney, judge, or juror panel. The better observational skills a forensic psychologist has, the more they can provide guidance and conclusions.

4. Be a Researcher: Analysis and research skills are required whether a forensic psychologist performs formal and experimental analysis or cross-checking an opposing expert witness's formal conclusions.

Crime Scene Processing

Dr. Bhoopesh Kumar Sharma
Forensic Expert & Associate Professor

Crime Scene Processing is a complex process involve several steps like securing a crime scene, recording the crime scene, searching for the evidences, collection of the evidences, and cleaning up the crime scene. It takes great attention to detail and nuance to process a crime scene. Appropriate steps must be taken in chronological order to preserve proof. There are several people involved in the crime scene processing:

  • Team Leader 
  • Photographer and Photographic Log Recorder 
  • Sketch Preparer & Notes Taker
  • Evidence Recorder/Evidence Recovery Personnel
  • Specialists

Team Leader (Investigating Officer)

  1. Taking power-ensuring personnel health and on-site security. Ensure that personnel use adequate protective equipment and follow standard guidelines to protect them from any health hazards that may result from blood or other human body fluid.
  2. Conduct initial walk-through for purposes of making a preliminary survey, evaluating potential evidence, and preparing a narrative description. 
  3. Determine search patterns, and make appropriate assignments for team members. 
  4. Designate command post location and ensure exchange of information between search and investigative personnel. 
  5. Coordinate with other law enforcement agencies and make sure a cooperative spirit is maintained. 
  6. Ensure that sufficient supplies and equipment are available for personnel. 
  7. Control access to the scene and designate an individual to log everyone into the scene. 
  8. Continuously re-evaluate efficiency of search during entire course of operation. 
  9. Release the scene after a final survey and inventory 

Photographer and Photographic Log Recorder

1.     Photograph entire area before it is entered. 
2.     Photograph victims, crowd, and vehicles. 
3.  Photograph entire scene with overall, medium and     close-up coverage, using measurement scale when appropriate.
4. Photograph major evidence items before they are moved; coordinate this effort with Sketch Preparer, Evidence Recorder, and Evidence Recovery Personnel. 
5. Photograph all latent fingerprints and other impression evidence before lifting and casting are accomplished. 
6. Prepare photographic log and photographic sketch. 

Sketch Preparer

  1. Prepares the rough and the finished sketches of the crime scene and the evidences
  2. Ascertains the direction of each evidence in the sketch
  3. Indicate the inter-relationship of all the evidences in the sketch.
  4. Diagram immediate area of scene and orient diagram with sketch. 
  5. Set forth major items of evidence on sketch. 
  6. Designate and label areas to be searched and advise team leader and all other search members of nomenclature for designated areas. 
  7. Obtain appropriate assistance for taking measurements and double check measurements. 
  8. Ensure necessary administrative information, such as scale disclaimer (not drawn to scale), is recorded on sketch. 

Evidence Recorder/Custodian

  1. Have significant evidence photographed before collection. 
  2. Describe evidence and its location on appropriate bag or envelope. 
  3. Sign and date evidence container/maintain chain of custody. 
  4. Appropriately collect and package evidence to maximize evidence integrity. 
  5. Maintain evidence log. 
  6. Use appropriate protective equipment (gloves) and methods when dealing with potentially infective evidence (blood). 


It is sometimes necessary to bring in expert on the crime scene. The field of forensic science is so broad today that variety of evidences may require different specialist to process the evidences.  Typically, specialists are brought in from forensic labs, industry, the academic community, private scientific laboratories, and similar concerns. Specialists should be identified before they are needed in an actual case. A current list should be maintained, if possible. The agency should meet with these individuals to determine the best manner to jointly conduct search planning, operations, and follow-up activity.

The following list provides examples of specialty assistance to be considered 
(it is not meant to be completely inclusive):
·      Anthropologist
·      Blood Pattern Analyst 
·      Bomb Technician 
·      Criminalist
·      Engineer
·      Entomologist
·      Medical Examiner 
·      Odontologist
·      Surveyor
·      Ballistic Expert

Following are the steps in brief to be considered while processing the crime scene:

Approach Scene 
Secure and Protect Scene 
Initiate Preliminary Survey 
Evaluate Physical Evidence Possibilities 
Prepare Narrative Description 
Photograph Scene 
Prepare Diagram/Sketch of Scene 
Conduct Detailed Search/Record and Collect Physical Evidence 
Conduct Final Survey 
Release Crime Scene 

Monday, December 23, 2019

What is better - Bachelor's in Forensic Science or Master's?

Dr. Bhoopesh Kumar Sharma
Forensic Expert & Associate Professor

Many times, students are confused about whether to go for Bachelor's in Forensic Science and then Masters in Specialized field, or it is better to do Bachelor's in life science or any other branch and then Masters in Forensic Science.

Here, in this post, I will try to answer these questions, which will help you to understand the basics, and you will probably be able to decide your career accordingly.

Firstly, you need to know what is your background. Means before bachelors do you have a science background or not. Let me make it very clear at this point, if you do not have a science background, then it is impossible for you to grow yourself in the career of Forensic Sciences. As forensic science consists of the application of scientific principles to solve the legal issues. 

When I say science background, make it a point that I am asking about the Physics/Chemistry/Biology or Physics/Chemistry/Maths or any of these two subjects at least at you school level (12th standard). If you have a combination of physics and biology, or chemistry with biology you are good to go ahead.

1. Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science

Many universities and institutions offer a general Bachelor's in Forensic Science or a Bachelor's in the Criminal Justice System. Now here both are slightly different. In the Criminal Justice System degree, you probably do not need a science background; however, in forensic science, that is compulsory. A number of students asks me. Is it better to do general Bachelor's in science and then go for a Masters in Forensic Science? 

The answer is yes. It is good to have further strong fundamentals at an undergraduate level, and then you can enter in the field with more specialized knowledge, and experience in particular domain. Because many of the institutions (for Bachelor's Forensic Programmes) do not offer basic sciences (physics/chemistry/biology/engineering), then it won't be very easy to make your career sound in this case at the Master's level.

Is it better to do a Bachelor's in Forensic Science?

The answer is again, Yes. If you have already made up your mind that what you want to be in the next 3-5 years, then choosing Bachelor's in Forensic Science is a good option. But please remember, once you have done your Bachelor's in Forensics, then it won't be straightforward to enter in many other field in your Masters. So, be aware of that. However, in related areas like genetics, microbiology, biochemistry, biotechnology, and others, you still have a chance to enter the Masters level.

2. Master’s in Forensic Science

Now here comes the more responsibility on your shoulders in choosing the specialization. There are many specialties available in various universities/institutions around the world at the masters level like Toxicology, Pathology, Ballistics, Forensic Biology, Human Genetics, Human Identification, Cyber Forensics, Cyber Security, Forensic Psychology, Criminology, Criminalistics, Questioned Documents, Fingerprinting, DNA Profiling, and General Forensics, etc.

Individual branches like cybersecurity, forensic engineering, ballistics, forensic psychology need your bachelor's also in the same or similar area or a related field; else, it is difficult to enter for masters in these specific areas. There are some new domains of forensic science like Artificial Intelligence, Social Media Forensics, Forensic Journalism, IoT forensics, etc. and all of these need your bachelor's or certificate or diploma in the related field.

Below, I have mentioned several majors at Master’s Level ( I can not mention all) and their probable requirements/eligibility. However, these eligibilities may vary as per the organization, hence it is always better to contact the particular organization to know more. Also, I am not promoting any of these programme or organization, these are just for your general consideration. I request you to further check the eligibility criteria with the university/institution. I will not be responsible for any discrepancy.

Masters in Forensic Science (General)
No specific qualification needed. Only Bachelors in Science (any science) is fine.
Masters in Digital Forensics/ Cyber Security/Cyber Security/IT Forensics/Mobile Forensics, etc.
You need a Bachelor’s degree in the related field of computer science or IT. In case if you have general science Bachelor's, then many universities may accept if you are able to provide your additional credentials in computer science or IT.
Masters in DNA Profiling/Forensic Biology/Forensic Serology, etc.
You must need a Bachelors in forensic science or biological sciences, biotechnology, biochemistry, etc. Bachelor’s in physics and math will not solve the issue.
Masters in Forensic Psychology
You need a Bachelor’s in psychology or forensic psychology. 
Forensic Auditing and Accounting
Commerce or accounting background is must.
Masters in Forensic Toxicology/Forensic Chemistry
You may need Bachelor’s in forensic science or a Bachelor’s in chemistry or a Bachelor’s in science with chemistry as one of the subjects.
Masters in Forensic Odontology
Bachelor’s degree in dentistry
Masters in Forensic Identification
Bachelor’s degree in biology, biotechnology, forensic science, general bachelor’s, etc.
Masters in Criminology
Probably any Bachelor’s degree from a recognized university.
Masters in Forensic Biotechnology
Any Bachelor’s degree with biology/biotechnology/biochemistry as one of the subjects.
Masters in Medicolegal Death Investigations
A Bachelor’s degree in medicine, GRE scores, pathology, etc.
Masters in Forensic Anthropology
A Bachelor’s degree in forensic science, anatomy, or anthropology.
Masters in Questioned Document Examination & Fingerprints
A Bachelor’s degree in forensic science or related field.
Masters in Environmental Forensics
Any Bachelor’s degree with either biology, chemistry, forensic science, or environmental science.
Masters in Fire Investigation
Bachelor’s degree in forensic science, chemistry, or engineering
Forensic Ballistics
Many universities ask for a physics background at bachelor’s level
Masters in Forensic Linguistics or Speech Science
Bachelor’s in forensic science, physics, linguistics, etc.
Masters in Forensic Art/Facial Reconstruction
A degree in art, design, forensics, anatomy, etc.