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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Interview With Robert Ressler

I came across an article which includes an interview with retired FBI agent Robert Ressler.

Ressler is credited with creating the FBI's Criminal Profiling System, and is considered the foremost expert on the psychology of serial and mass murders.

Click Here To Read The Article

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Latest Edition of The All About Forensic Psychology Newsleter

I've just sent out the September edition of the All About Forensic Psychology Newsletter, which you can access directly from the link below.

This months edition includes another excellent article written exclusively for the newsletter by psychology professor and distinguished author Christopher Cronin.

Professor Cronin's article addresses the issue of ethical practice in forensic psychology. The article is packed with invaluable information and advice and is quite simply a must read for anybody who is serious about becoming a forensic psychologist.

Read The Latest All About Forensic Psychology Newsletter

Monday, September 18, 2006

Forensic Psychology: Key Historical Figures

To fully appreciate a subject it's important to be aware of the key historical figures who helped shape its identity. This blog article identifies a number of individuals who did just that within the field of forensic psychology.

Wilhelm Wundt

In terms of a tangible landmark in the history of forensic psychology the most significant development was the founding of the first psychological laboratory in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig Germany.

Wilhelm Wundt championed and refined the experimental method within psychology. This rigorous methodology provided the framework for a whole host of applied psychological investigations, among them certain legal issues. For instance, a number of experiments were conducted into the nature of witness testimony, the findings of which highlighted the effects of situational and individual differences; which incidentally are still being examined today.

Hugo Munsterberg

An engaging and controversial figure Hugo Munsterberg was a key figure in the history of forensic psychology. He studied under Wundt at Leipzg before moving to the USA in 1892 to set up an experimental laboratory at Harvard; the principal aim of which was to introduce applied psychology into the courtroom.

He conducted research into witness memory, false confessions and the role of hypnosis in court. One of his earliest experiments tested subjects’ ability to discriminate between sounds heard in quick succession. Almost sixty years later his findings were included as part of the preparation for the trial (which for obvious reasons never actually took place) of Lee Harvey Oswald to help address the question of how many shots had been fired during the assassination of President Kennedy.

William Marston

Another important visionary in the history of forensic psychology. Marston was a student under Munsterberg who conducted research into the physiological effects of deception i.e. lie detector tests.

Alfred Binet

In 1889 Alfred Binet co-founded the first psychological laboratory in France. Having studied medicine and law he was interested in how psychology could be applied within the legal system, particularly in relation to witness testimony. However, it was Binet’s work into intellectual assessment that was to have the greatest forensic impact. Working alongside Theodore Simon, he developed the first psychometric test of intelligence, the principles of which proved the basis for later forensic assessment. For instance, in the US the Wechsler Intelligence test for children was regularly employed as part of proceedings within juvenile court.

Later, group testing became extremely popular, particularly within the armed services as a way of selecting recruits and before long objective tests were being employed across a host of professions and for a variety of purposes as a means of measuring behavioural traits, skills, attitudes etc. Significantly for the practice of forensic psychology this included the judiciary who began allowing test results to be presented as evidence in court.

Click Here For More Information on The History of Forensic Psychology

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Going Beyond The Mo: Criminal Profiling, Jack The Ripper And Signature Behavior

The primary aim of criminal profiling is to reveal the behavioral make-up of an unknown offender. To understand how this can be achieved, this blog item draws upon Robert Keppel's analysis of the Jack the ripper murders in order to examine the concept of signature behavior and how this differs from the offender’s Modus Operandi.

Modus Operandi

I’m sure you’ve all watched a film or TV series where a detective at a crime scene asks ‘what’s the MO?’. MO stands for Modus Operandi and it literally means way of working, and it’s what an offender does in order to carry out a crime. For example, a burglar who always uses a glass cutter to gain access to a house is demonstrating an aspect of his or her MO or way of working. From an investigative point of view analysis of the offenders MO can be used to link cases at crime scenes, however, a major stumbling block is that an offenders MO (way of working) can change.

Consequently, according to criminal profilers you have to analyse behavior that transcends the MO. Innate behavior that is static and rigid; behavior that remains the same over time. This behavior relates to the things offenders are psychologically compelled to do over and above what it takes to commit the crime, and in the world of criminal profiling, this type of behaviour is known as signature behavior.

Signature behavior

A very useful two part definition of offender signature is provided by Brent Turvey.

Signature Behaviors

Signature behaviors are those acts committed by an offender that are not necessary to complete the offense. Their convergence can be used to suggest an offender’s psychological or emotional needs (signature aspect). They are best understood as a reflection of the underlying personality, lifestyle, and developmental experiences of an offender

Signature Aspects

The emotional or psychological themes or needs that an offender satisfies when they commit offense behaviors.

Robert Keppel has written widely on criminal profiling and signature behavior and analysis. In 2002 I was fortunate enough to hear him speak at a forensic science conference in Atlanta. Entitled ‘A signature analysis of the eight Whitechapel murders attributed to Jack the Ripper in 1888’ Robert Keppel's presentation sought to explain the processes involved in linking murder cases through Modus Operandi and signature.

The reason I want to include it here is that I remember thinking at the time, and still do, that it provides an excellent way of showing how the MO and signature differ in terms of what they tell you about a particular crime. The following information is taken from Keppel’s abstract in the conference proceedings.

Jack the Ripper’s Modus Operandi

He attacked white female prostitutes in their 40’s in a cluster of victims within a short distance of each other. The first four victims Mary Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes were killed and found outdoors in the Whitechapel area; then he changed his MO by killing and leaving the fifth victim Mary Kelly, indoors. By choosing to murder Kelly indoors, the killer demonstrated that he was an experienced night time cat burglar and stalker, as he attacked all his victims in the early morning hours when dawn was approaching

Jack the Ripper’s signature

Remember this relates to what he did over and above what was necessary to commit the crime, it transcends the MO

Each victim was posed in a sexually degrading position, intentionally left that way so the discovery of the bodies would startle the people who found them. They were not concealed or hidden away, but placed in locations where they would be easily discovered. The placing of the victims on their back, grotesquely laid out with their throats cut and viscera exposed or missing, reflect the cruel reality of the killer, his total mastery over their bodies. The pleasure for the killer was demonstrating each victims vulnerability.

Incidentally Keppel does not believe that all the murders attributed to Jack the ripper where in fact carried out by him. He claims that in the case of three of his alleged victims there were fundamental differences in the signature of the crimes.

However, there is no doubt that like his fellow writers on the topic Keppel firmly believes that signature behaviour represents a real and intrinsic part of the offender’s personality.

"Hidden among the evidence, often gleaned from the marks and wounds on the victim’s body…these signatures are the only ways the killer truly expresses himself." (Keppel & Burns).

Click Here To Find Out About The History of Criminal Profiling and The FBI Legacy

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Crime Scene Investigation: Understanding The CSI Effect

Programs such as Forensic files, Law and Order, CSI, CSI Miami etc may be hugely popular and thoroughly entertaining but they have created what is know in academic and professional circles as the 'CSI effect'

According to Max Houck, director of the Forensic Science Initiative, a program that develops research and professional training for forensic scientists, "The CSI effect is basically the perception of the near-infallibility of forensic science in response to the TV show,"

The main distortion between fictional portrayals and the application of forensic science in the real world is 'time frame'. It can take several weeks, sometimes months to get results back from the lab, however, in the fictional world of forensic science and crime scene investigation, results invaribaly come back straight away.

The CSI effect in action:

It would seem that the CSI effect is most visible in the court room, particularly among jurors. Max Houck mentioned above, argues that Prosecutors fear the CSI effect among juries because they may question why everything isn't subject to forensic analysis, when in fact not everything has to be. Equally, Defence attorneys are concerned about the CSI effect because jurors may perceive the science of forensics as completely objective and totally accurate, thus ignoring the possibility of human or technical error.

Writing for USA today Richard Willing outlined a number of examples that highlighted the CSI effect in action. These included:

A murder trial where jurors alerted the judge that a bloody coat introduced as evidence had not been tested for DNA. In fact, the tests were not needed because the defendant acknowledged being at the murder scene. The judge stated that TV had taught jurors about DNA tests, but not enough about when to use them.

A murder trial where jurors asked the judge if a cigarette butt found during the crime scene investigation could be tested to see if it could be linked to the defendant. The defence team had ordered the tests but hadn't introduced them into evidence. Upon doing so, the tests exonerated the defendant, and he was acquitted.

The fact that prosecutors are now being allowed to question potential jurors about their TV-watching habits.

Take the CSI challenge

Concerned by the potential negative consequences of the CSI effect, the National Forensic academy in conjunction with best selling crime writer Patricia Cornwell have produced a free interactive package that allows you to appreciate and understand the way it really happens in crime scene investigation.

Please note that a high speed Internet connection is required.

Click Here To Test your Crime Scene Investigation Knowledge

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Why Do People Make False Confessions?

In light of the recent John Mark Karr case, it's worth noting that proponents of forensic psychology have been writing about the psychological aspects of false confessions for nearly 100 years.

In 1908 Hugo Munsterberg among other observations, claimed that false confessions were a normal phenomena triggered by unusual circumstances!

Came across an interesting article on the subject written by By Kathleen Doheny for fox news.

Click Here To Access The Article

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Conference on Digital Forensics, Security and Law

The Association of Digital Forensics, Security and Law Conference will be held on April 18-20, 2007 in Arlington, Virginia USA just outside Washington, D.C.

The conference homepage notes that:

"Digital forensics is playing a more prominent role in law enforcement, network security, and information assurance. The field of study encompasses not just digital evidence, but also the areas of cyber law, sociology, and security to name a few. Its increasing importance is reflected in its growing role within crime investigations, civil cases and homeland security.

An in-depth understanding of digital forensics is needed by college students who will be entering the various fields within technology, business, criminal justice, law, and homeland security. Currently, many professionals in those fields are still not well-prepared to understand the use and management of digital evidence – or the use of digital forensics in determining the causes of security breaches, or the avoidance of security breaches altogether.

Today, many professionals are working with others from different fields - lawyers are working with IT managers, law enforcement are working with forensics engineers. Well, at least they are trying. Unless properly prepared, many of these professionals will not be able to communicate and work effectively with each other. Those communications will continue in their frequency and importance. The demand for forensics and investigative work by knowledgeable professionals will continue to call upon our academic institutions to provide that education for the foreseeable future.

While some topics or courses will be needed in a variety of majors such as criminal justice and computer science, an enhanced level of study should be provided for those wishing to have a more solid foundation in digital forensics, security and law. By providing a conference addressing research and curriculum in the related disciplines of digital forensics, information assurance and law, we hope to provide an avenue which will provide for a more comprehensive and richer learning environment."

Click Here To Visit The Conference Homepage