South Holland, IL asked in Adoption, Child Custody, Criminal Law and Family Law for Pennsylvania

Q: Can Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychologists Phd work in forensic evaluation in dependency court in Pennsylvania?

1 Lawyer Answer
Peter Christopher Lomtevas
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  • Divorce Lawyer
  • Schenectady, NY
  • Licensed in Pennsylvania

A: This is a vague question about forensic expert witness output.

Just as in the 1992 motion picture "My Cousin Vinny" starring Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei, expertise knows no geographical boundaries and is admissible as long as to is helpful.

In the motion picture, a statuesque brunette with a ticking biological clock who was an unemployed hair dresser, was qualified to render expert witness (opinion) testimony about virtually any detail about a 1960's automobile. The brunette previously worked as a mechanic in her family's auto repair garage, and acquired substantial skill that the trial court found useful, and which led to a dismissal of a criminal action brought against two innocent men accused of murdering a store clerk.

A PhD in psychology may be well versed in human behavior and may offer useful opinion testimony in a dependency court. As long as the psychologist is "qualified" by a showing of his training, experience and background, the court will permit him to render an opinion.

Can this be abused? Yes. Any flop who cannot run a psychology practice can earn a spot on an appellate court's list of psychologists. People on this list can be auto-qualified by an inept judge. Opposing psychologists retained by ordinary litigants can be prohibited from being qualified to testify. Another foible is the judge can qualify an addictions expert in "all areas" of psychology (to include children and families) thus granting open season for the psychologist to say anything he wants about anything the judge needs.

The judge in My Cousin Vinny (played by the actor who played Herman Munster on television) was clearly biased against Vinny who took on the role as defense counsel for two innocent boys. That judge exhibited a hostility that is equal to or greater than that experienced by ordinary litigants in Pennsylvania's courts. The brunette brought clarity and grace to such a junk court, and liberated two innocent men.

The same does not go for the typical litigant ensnared in a dependency proceeding (a civil child abuse/neglect prosecution). A state licensed, frequently-assigned psychologist compensated rather steadily and consistently in these cases will use the art of psychology to bolster the trial judge's decision to protect kids from dangerous parents.

Moneyed litigants will bring in outside psychologists and set up a fight. The poorer litigant will take her lumps. The answer to her question is yes if qualified by the court to render expert witness testimony.

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