Legal Issues

Providing psychological assessments for the court is a recognized specialized skill and is referred to as forensic psychology. Recently, the APA published ethical codes for forensic psychologists. These can be found at the American Psychological Association website.

An attorney can refer to us for the following evaluations: Social Security disability, juvenile and adult competency to stand trial, juvenile and adult criminal responsibility, parenting capacity evaluations and violence risk. Be aware that training and background in one area does not mean that a forensic psychologist can perform assessments in all areas.

Disability evaluations require a strong background in clinical diagnosis and treatment and familiarity with a broad spectrum of medical, neurological, cognitive and clinical mental health presentations. At the time of this writing, Dr. Griffith has provided DDS (Disability Determination Services) consultative examinations for nearly 18 years. He also has taught intellectual and personality assessment at the graduate level for 10 years.

Competency and criminal evaluations require a strong understanding of the current law, developmental psychology, diagnosis of mental health disorders, neuropsychological functioning and psychological testing. Dr. Griffith’s undergraduate degree focused on developmental psychology and family sciences. He completed a course in mental disability law in 2001 at the New York Law School, where he studied with Michael Perlin. Dr. Griffith has had attended many trainings that are specific to the assessment of adult and juvenile competency and has taught a course on Forensic Psychology. Dr. Griffith also participated in meetings with the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency when Michigan’s new juvenile competency law was being proposed.

Questions about risk assessment may arise in the area of substance use, domestic violence or sex offenses. These areas involve a thorough assessment of static or historical factors. For example, it is important to assess not only the current charge or concern, but prior violence, job history, patterns of psychological coping and substance use and vulnerabilities to situations that may trigger undesirable behaviors. Protective factors are carefully evaluated. While one person’s problems may be buffered by a good relationship with a partner, another person’s problems/risk may be reduced by taking medication. With children and teens, it is important to assess family stability, to develop a picture of the neighborhood and socioeconomic status, child and parent stress, values of the child/teen and caregiver and the age at which behavioral problems began. Peer groups and community involvement are especially salient to a youths’ risk.

A landmark study in risk for violence amongst those with mental illness is the MacArthur study which can be found at The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study.