Forensic Services

In the role of Forensic Psychologist, Dr. Freedman applies psychological science to issues relating to the legal system. Dr. Freedman has performed hundreds of forensic evaluations and is a recognized resource among attorneys, school systems, State, Federal and Tribal courts, State and County agencies and correctional facilities. Dr. Freedman has been qualified as an expert witness dozens of times in multiple venues. He is comfortable working with both prosecution and defense attorneys. He has special interests in family law, Native American culture and forensic assessment of those with developmental disabilities. “Forensic” mental health evaluations are typically court ordered and used in a legal or adversarial process. They are prepared in accordance with Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology

 

Areas of Forensic Specialization

Family and Custody

Evaluations of parental capacity are most commonly requested by case workers from the Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) or the Washington State Attorney General’s office. Such evaluations provide opinions to the court to assist in decision making around a person’s parental capacity and the best psychological interests of their child. Parents referred for such evaluations have often been alleged to have abused, abandoned or neglected their children or to have mental health and/or substance use issues which may have impaired their parental capacity.

Parenting capacity evaluations follow RCW 13.34, Juvenile Court Act – Dependency and Termination of Parent-Child Relationship, specifically 13.34.180 subsection 1 and 13.34. 190 subsection 1b. Such evaluations provide estimates of the likelihood for conditions to be remedied so that the child can be returned to the parent and the parent’s ability to address parental deficiencies within the near future. Treatment recommendations or other “necessary services” to facilitate return of the examinee’s child are usually provided. The parent’s ability to benefit from such services is also estimated. Finally, if appropriate, opinions regarding the child’s best psychological interests are provided to assist the court.
Frequently, Dr. Freedman is asked to provide second opinion parental capacity evaluations. Such evaluations may be helpful to provide information to the court when conditions have changed or the initial evaluation provided insufficient or inaccurate information.

Parental capacity evaluations usually begin with an interview using a semi-structured format to collect information from the parent regarding their own history and their orientation to parenting. Dr. Freedman also uses a semi-structured interview to collect information about the parent’s current mental health function. Frequently Dr. Freedman will administer empirically validated parent related tests and will observe the parent and child together. Home visits are sometimes included as well. When there are questions regarding the effect of emotional or intellectual function on parenting capacity, empirically derived tests of function in these areas may be administered.

When conducting parental capacity evaluations Dr. Freedman reviews multiple forms of written documentation including pleadings and court orders, declarations or other written documentation from the parties or their advocates, written input from collateral sources, criminal or law enforcement history, school records, mental or physical health records, previous psychological or substance abuse evaluations and child protective service records among others. Dr. Freedman conducts interviews with collateral sources who know or have worked with the parent and the child, including family members, mental health providers, physicians, teachers, athletic coaches and religious leaders among others.
For further information on the ethics and practice of parental capacity evlauations please review the Guidelines for Psychological Evaluations in Child Protection Matters provided by the American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/child-protection.pdf

The purpose of a child custody evaluation is to assist the court in determining the best interests of children involved in custody disputes and to assist in developing a parenting plan consistent with the requirements of RCW 26.09.184, 26.09.187, 26.09.191, and 26.09.220. Opinions also assist the court in decision making regarding modification of an existing parenting plan (RCW 26.09.260), relocation (RCW 26.09.520) or other specific issues
Child custody evaluations are defined as “parenting evaluations” in Washington State as described in WAC 246-924-445. Such evaluations include a comparative analysis of the relative strength, nature, and stability of the child’s relationship with each parent, the history or parenting, each parent’s past and potential ability to perform parenting functions and the emotional needs and developmental level of the child. Other factors related to the child’s best interest and the ability if each parent to meet those interests are also assessed. Such factors include the child’s relationship with others, their involvement in activities or school and physical surroundings, the wishes of the parents or of a child who is sufficiently mature to express reasoned and independent preferences and each parent’s employment schedule. Allegations of substance abuse, mental illness, restrictive gatekeeping behaviors, child alienation, intimate partner violence as well as abusive or neglectful parenting are also assessed.
Child custody evaluations involve extensive interviews with each parent using structured and semi-structured protocols. Information related to each parent’s personal history, orientation to and history of parenting, current emotional function, and custodial preferences is collected over a series of interviews. If appropriate, Dr. Freedman administers empirically validated parent related tests and will schedule home visits at each parents’ home during their custodial time. When there are questions regarding the effect of emotional or intellectual function on parenting capacity, empirically derived tests of function in these areas may be administered.

When conducting child custody evaluations Dr. Freedman reviews multiple forms of written documentation including pleadings and court orders, declarations or other written documentation from the parties or their advocates, written input from collateral sources, criminal or law enforcement history, school records, mental or physical health records, previous psychological or substance abuse evaluations and child protective service records among others. Dr. Freedman conducts interviews with each child, often on multiple occasions and may administered additional psychological testing if there are specific child related issues which require further assessment to form opinions regarding the child’s best interest. Dr. Freedman also conducts interviews with collateral sources who know or have worked with each parent and the children, including family members, mental health providers, physicians, teachers, athletic coaches and religious leaders among others. The spouses or partners of parents are also interviewed. Depending on their level of involvement with the children, parents’ spouses or partners may also be asked to participate in further assessment or psychological testing.
For further information on the ethics and methodology of Child Custody Evaluations please see the Guidelines for Child Custody Evaluations in Family Law Proceedings published by the American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/child-custody.pdf and the Model Standards of Practice for Child Custody Evaluations published by the Association of Family and Consiliation Courts: http://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/ModelStdsChildCustodyEvalSept2006.pdf

An individual involved in a custodial dispute may be ordered by the court to undergo a forensic mental health evaluation. This type of evaluation is appropriate when a full custody evaluation involving a comparative analysis of both parents is unnecessary. As described in WAC 246-924-467, such an evaluation may assess a number of factors which could impact a custody litigant’s parenting ability. Commonly evaluated are substance abuse, psychological function, intimate partner violence, sexual or physical abuse of a child, restrictive gatekeeping behaviors or child alienation. As in any other forensic evaluations, Dr. Freedman is only able to form opinions and testify regarding issues which he has directly evaluated.

Such evaluations involve an interviews using a semi-structured protocol. Information related to the parent’s personal history, orientation to and history of parenting and current emotional function is collected. If appropriate, Dr. Freedman administers empirically validated parent related tests and will observe the child with the parent. If appropriate a home visit during the parent’s custodial time will also be scheduled. When there are questions regarding the effect of emotional or intellectual function on parenting capacity, empirically derived tests of function in these areas may be administered.

When conducting a focused evaluation of a custody litigant Dr. Freedman reviews multiple forms of written documentation including pleadings and court orders, declarations or other written documentation from the parties or their advocates, written input from collateral sources, criminal or law enforcement history, school records, mental or physical health records, previous psychological or substance abuse evaluations and child protective service records among others. Dr. Freedman conducts interviews with collateral sources who know or have worked with the parent and the child, including family members, mental health providers, physicians, teachers, athletic coaches and religious leaders among others.

Sometimes the court requests psychological or parenting related evaluations to determine if a grandparent or other family relation is capable of safely caring for a child. Specific questions related to the examinee’s mental health stability or parenting skills may be raised. Commonly evaluated are substance abuse, psychological function, intimate partner violence or risk of sexual or physical abuse of a child. As in any other forensic evaluations, Dr. Freedman is only able to form opinions and testify regarding issues which he has directly evaluated.

These types of evaluations involve interviews using a semi-structured protocol. Information related to the parent’s personal history, orientation to and history of parenting and current emotional function is collected. If appropriate, Dr. Freedman administers empirically validated parent related tests and will observe the child with the grandparent or family member. An observation of the grandparent or family member together with the child may also be conducted. When there are questions regarding the effect of emotional or intellectual function on parenting capacity or emotional stability, empirically derived tests of function in these areas may be administered.

When conducting a parenting related evaluation of a grandparent or family member Dr. Freedman reviews multiple forms of written documentation including pleadings and court orders, declarations or other written documentation from the parties or their advocates, written input from collateral sources, criminal or law enforcement history, school records, mental or physical health records, previous psychological or substance abuse evaluations and child protective service records among others. Dr. Freedman will conduct interviews with collateral sources who know or have worked with the examinee, including family members, mental health providers, physicians, teachers, athletic coaches and religious leaders among others.

Questions may be raised about the readiness or suitability of an adoptive parent or home. Evaluations are requested to provide information to a licensing entity regarding the readiness or suitability of parent to serve as a foster or adoptive home. At times such evaluations consider the specific needs of a particular child and the capacity of the parent to meet that child’s needs. As in any other forensic evaluations, Dr. Freedman is only able to form opinions and testify regarding issues which he has directly evaluated.

Such evaluations involve interviews using a semi-structured protocol. Information related to the parent’s personal history, orientation to and history of parenting and current emotional function is collected. If appropriate, Dr. Freedman administers empirically validated parent related tests and may conduct a home visit. When there are questions regarding the effect of emotional or intellectual function on parenting capacity or emotional stability, empirically derived tests of function in these areas may be administered.

When conducting an assessment of the suitability or readiness of an adoptive home Dr. Freedman reviews multiple forms of written documentation including pleadings and court orders, declarations or other written documentation, written input from collateral sources, criminal or law enforcement history, school records, mental or physical health records, previous psychological or substance abuse evaluations and child protective service records among others. Dr. Freedman will conduct interviews with collateral sources who know or have worked with the examinee, including family members, mental health providers, physicians, teachers, athletic coaches and religious leaders among others.

Juvenile

Dr. Freedman is frequently consulted by schools, businesses and institutions to assess the potential risk an individual may pose to themselves or others. Evaluation of risk involves extensive interviews with the examinee and collateral sources, review of collateral records, psychological testing and use of forensic assessment tools which estimate risk.

Individuals who have been charged with a crime may suffer from mental conditions which could reduce their capacity to form the intent to commit the alleged offence. In order to demonstrate diminished capacity in Washington State a criminal defendant must produce expert testimony demonstrating that the defendant suffered from a mental condition that impaired his or her ability to form the requisite specific intent. In these cases forensic assessment according to RCW 10.77.060 subsection 3 (or applicable Tribal Code) will address the following questions:

  • Does the examinee suffer from a recognized mental disease or defect or have a developmental disability?
  • If so, to what degree was the examinee’s capacity to form the particular mental state (which is an element of the charged offence) impaired by the mental disease or defect?
  • What treatment or intervention would reduce risk of recidivism?
  • Does the examinee require evaluation by a County Designated Mental Health Professional under RCW 71.05.?

Evaluation of diminished capacity involves a semi-structured interview with the examinee. In most cases administration of psychological tests of cognitive and emotional function as well as forensic assessments to assess for malingering or other issues are usually administered. Interviews with the examinee’s attorney or others who know the examinee well are usually included.

Evaluation of competency to stand trial is based on the two-part test for competency in Washington State which has been established through case law. The two part standard includes: 1) whether the defendant understands the nature of the charges and 2) whether the defendant is capable of assisting in his or her defense. At times it is necessary to assess other forms of competency at issue in the criminal legal process including the competence to plead guilty, waive counsel, or to refuse the insanity defense.

As described in the Washington State RCW 10.77.060 (or applicable Tribal Code) trial competency evaluations generally address several questions including the following:

  • What is the examinee’s current mental status?
  • Does the examinee suffer from a mental disease or defect, or developmental disability which impairs her competency to stand trial?
  • Did the examinee have the capacity at the time of the offence to form the mental state necessary to commit the charged offence? If not, then an opinion will be provided as to whether the examinee had “a particular state of mind which is an element of the offense charged”.
  • Does the examinee present “a substantial danger to other persons” or “a substantial likelihood of committing criminal acts jeopardizing public safety or security”, if not “kept under further control by the court or other persons or institutions”?
  • Is it likely for the examinee to be restored to competency within a reasonable period of time?

Evaluation of trial competency involves a semi-structured interview with the examinee and administration of forensic assessment instruments that assess competency. Interviews with the examinee’s attorney or others who know the examinee may also be used. Assessment of other factors related to competency including cognitive capacity, mental health problems or malingering may require administration of further empirically derived psychological test measures.

Adult

There are a several situations in which forensic psychological evaluations may be useful to individuals involved with United States Immigration Services.

1. Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648): Permanent legal residents of the United States who wish to become citizens must demonstrate a knowledge of United States history and civics as well as the capacity to read, write, and speak English. Applicants may seek an exception to these requirements if they suffer from a developmental disability or mental impairment which has lasted at least 12 months. Demonstration of such impairments is supported by forensic psychological assessment and completion of the N-648 Form.

N-648 evaluations assess for disabilities or impairments which effect the person’s ability to learn or speak English or to demonstrate a knowledge of civics. Problems with memory, poor education, dementia, chronic mental illness, head injury or developmental delay are often encountered in these types of evaluations. Therefore, such evaluations normally include tests of neurological and emotional function as well as interviews with the examinee and their family members.

2. Political Asylum Individuals may file for political asylum in the United States on the basis of mistreatment they experienced in their home country. Exploitation, abuse, oppression and discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion or political affiliation may result in enduring psychological injury. In these cases, forensic mental health evaluation may be helpful to asylum seekers to provide Immigration Services with information on the nature and cause of their psychological injury. Evaluation can also provide information as to whether or not the person’s psychological difficulties interfered with the timely filing of the claim for political asylum.

3. Extreme Hardship (I-601A Waiver ): Individuals who have been found inadmissible to the United States may claim “extreme hardship” when denial of residency may have a psychological impact on a US citizen who is an immediate and qualifying relative. For example, a child who is citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States might experience significant mental health issues if their parent was unable to remain in the United States to care for them. Forensic mental health evaluation may be useful in supporting such claims through evaluation of the qualifying relative and assessment of the potential psychological impact of separation or relocation.

4. Inadmissibility due to physical or mental disorder associated with harmful behavior. (I-601 Waiver http://www.uscis.gov/i-601): Individuals may be found ineligible to be admitted into the United States as an immigrant, or ineligible to adjust their immigrant status due to a physical or mental disorder associated with harmful behavior. Such individuals are required to complete Form I-601, The Application for Waiver of Ground of Admissibility. Forensic mental health evaluations may be needed to assess the status of the person’s mental illness and whether they have ever or currently pose a threat to the welfare, property or safety of themselves or others. Such evaluations call for a prognosis, “based on a reasonable degree of medical certainty” regarding the likelihood for harmful behavior to occur. I-601 evaluations are also required to include a recommendation for treatment that could reduce the likelihood of harmful behavior.

5. Battered Spouse, Children or Parents (I-360 Petition): United States Immigration law protects non-resident spouses, children or parents of United States citizens and legal permanent residents when there is a history of abuse. When a non-citizen spouse, child or parent is abused by a related citizen/resident, the abused party may file an immigrant visa petition under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). This allows the victim of abuse to seek safety and independence from their abuser. Forensic mental health evaluations may be helpful in these types of cases to provide information to immigration officials regarding the nature and impact of the abuse including its psychological consequences.

6. U Visas (I-360 Petition): U visas are given to immigrants who are the victims of certain types of crimes including sexual exploitation and abuse, intimate partner violence or genital mutilation. US immigration law dictates that in order for victims to be eligible for a U visa they must be willing to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity and to have suffered mental or physical abuse. Family members of the victim may also be eligible for a U visa. Forensic mental health evaluations may be helpful in these types of cases to provide information to immigration officials regarding the nature and impact of the abuse including its psychological consequences.

Dr. Freedman is frequently consulted by schools, businesses and institutions to assess the potential risk an individual may pose to themselves or others. Evaluation of risk involves extensive interviews with the examinee and collateral sources, review of collateral records, psychological testing and use of forensic assessment tools which estimate risk.
Individuals who have been charged with a crime may suffer from mental conditions which could reduce their capacity to form the intent to commit the alleged offence. In order to demonstrate diminished capacity in Washington State a criminal defendant must produce expert testimony demonstrating that the defendant suffered from a mental condition that impaired his or her ability to form the requisite specific intent. In these cases forensic assessment according to RCW 10.77.060 subsection 3 (or applicable Tribal Code) will address the following questions:

  • Does the examinee suffer from a recognized mental disease or defect or have a developmental disability?
  • If so, to what degree was the examinee’s capacity to form the particular mental state (which is an element of the charged offence) impaired by the mental disease or defect?
  • What treatment or intervention would reduce risk of recidivism?
  • Does the examinee require evaluation by a County Designated Mental Health Professional under RCW 71.05.?

Evaluation of diminished capacity involves a semi-structured interview with the examinee. In most cases administration of psychological tests of cognitive and emotional function as well as forensic assessments to assess for malingering or other issues are usually administered. Interviews with the examinee’s attorney or others who know the examinee well are usually included.

Evaluation of competency to stand trial is based on the two-part test for competency in Washington State which has been established through case law. The two part standard includes: 1) whether the defendant understands the nature of the charges and 2) whether the defendant is capable of assisting in his or her defense. At times it is necessary to assess other forms of competency at issue in the criminal legal process including the competence to plead guilty, waive counsel, or to refuse the insanity defense.

As described in the Washington State RCW 10.77.060 (or applicable Tribal Code) trial competency evaluations generally address several questions including the following:

  • What is the examinee’s current mental status?
  • Does the examinee suffer from a mental disease or defect, or developmental disability which impairs her competency to stand trial?
  • Did the examinee have the capacity at the time of the offence to form the mental state necessary to commit the charged offence? If not, then an opinion will be provided as to whether the examinee had “a particular state of mind which is an element of the offense charged”.
  • Does the examinee present “a substantial danger to other persons” or “a substantial likelihood of committing criminal acts jeopardizing public safety or security”, if not “kept under further control by the court or other persons or institutions”?
  • Is it likely for the examinee to be restored to competency within a reasonable period of time?

Evaluation of trial competency involves a semi-structured interview with the examinee and administration of forensic assessment instruments that assess competency. Interviews with the examinee’s attorney or others who know the examinee may also be used. Assessment of other factors related to competency including cognitive capacity, mental health problems or malingering may require administration of further empirically derived psychological test measures.

The concept of civil competency applies when there are questions regarding the capacity of an individual to competently participate in a legal procedure or competently perform a task which carries legally enforceable consequences.

Competency to participate in a civil trial
In some cases there may be questions about a litigant’s ability to competently participate in a trial or other legal proceeding. Case law may apply to the specific type of case, however in general terms, evaluation of civil trial competency is an assessment of whether the individual is able to “understandably and intelligently comprehend the significance of the legal proceedings and their effect on their best interest”.

Financial Capacity
Questions may be raised about an individual’s ability to manage financial affairs. Forensic assessment in this area provides information to the courts regarding a person’s specific abilities to make financial decisions and manage their day to day financial affairs. When there are more general questions about a person’s decision making ability, a guardianship evaluation may be necessary

Testamentary Capacity
Testamentary capacity refers to an individual’s ability to competently change or create a will. In general terms in order for a will to be valid a person must understand the nature and purpose of the will, who their heirs are, and the nature and extent of their assets. Evaluations of testamentary capacity are sometimes requested at the time a will is being created to establish a record of the person’s competency. At times, there may be questions about an individual’s testamentary capacity which arise after the person has been deceased. These type of evaluations, also known as “psychological autopsies” include review of medical records and interviews in an effort to determine the person’s capacity at the time the will was written.

Capacity to Accept or Refuse Treatment
There may be questions about a person’s ability to provide informed consent in a competent and voluntary manner. In such cases forensic mental health evaluation may be helpful to provide information about the individual’s ability to understand the nature, purpose and potential consequences of the treatment being proposed.

In personal injury cases an individual generally makes a claim that their mental health or neurological function has been harmed by the actions of another person or entity. In such cases it is often helpful to provide information to the court on the nature of the person’s claimed injury and related questions. Forensic mental health evaluation in personal injury cases address the following questions:

  • What was the examinee’s baseline psychological function before the alleged injury?
  • What is the nature and extent of distress caused to the examinee which might relate to the alleged injury?
  • Has the examinee reasonably attempted to mitigate harm they claim to have suffered?
  • Would a “reasonably constituted” person have been similarly harmed by the alleged injury?

Opinions rendered in personal injury evaluations are supported by evidence gathered through interview, psychological testing, review of collateral records and collateral interviews. Opinions are based on a reasonable degree of psychological certainty and designed to meet the legal standard of preponderance of evidence used in personal injury cases.

When there are questions about a person’s capacity to make everyday decisions, a guardianship may be considered. The court may appoint a guardian to help make some or all of the decisions for a person who is impaired by mental deterioration, physical incapacity, mental illness, or developmental disability. In these cases an assessment of the individual’s capacity to make decisions in a variety of domains may be useful determining the need for a guardian and the extent of the guardian’s role. It is necessary to determine if the individual is at risk of harm due to a demonstrated inability to adequately provide for their nutrition, health, housing, physical safety, property, or financial affairs (RCW 11.88.010(1)).