Christopher J Fichera, Ph.D. is a Florida licensed psychologist (#PY4473) providing Forensic Psychology services for Family, Civil and Criminal court cases. He is a member in Good Standing American Psychological Association, Division 41, Psychology-Law Society. He is also the Co-Director of South Florida Psychology. He received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Miami (1989) and completed a Fellowship in Clinical Psychology at the Yale University School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry (1987). Dr. Fichera completed Florida Forensic Examiner Training and has been retained or appointed to evaluate approximately 3500 defendants charged with crimes ranging from misdemeanor offenses to capital murder.
In Criminal Court, competency comes into question in several different areas of legal proceedings. First, a defendant has to be competent to waive Miranda rights, if a confession is to be used at trial. The defendant has to be competent to stand trial. Of course, the individual must also be found to have been sane at the time of the offense, in order to have criminal responsibility for the crime.
The confusing issue in these competency determinations is that one determination of competency does not automatically lead to other findings of similar competency. In other words, a person can be sane at the time an offense is committed, but later not competent to stand trial, or visa versa. Further, if a person is currently competent to stand trial that does not determine his or her competency to waive Miranda rights at the time of their interrogation.
The court may desire a psychological evaluation as part of a pre-sentence investigation, or the defense may wish to present psychological information for the court to consider in sentencing. A pre-sentence psychological evaluation can affect sentencing to the extent that it addresses aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
Psychological evaluations conducted as part of pre-sentence investigations should address any factors that relate to aggravating or mitigating circumstances. The standard format for pre-sentencing psychological evaluations would include a review of all pertinent discovery materials, especially the pre-sentence report and other psychological reports completed on the defendant. The clinical interview examines the defendant's psychosocial history, including any past psychological treatment, or past criminal offenses committed as a result of a psychological disorder. Psychological testing is used to evaluate the presence of psychological disorders, psychopathy, or personality characteristics that may have mediated rational decision making or interfered with judgment or perception. The results are presented in a comprehensive psychological report, summarizing any relevant findings for the court.
Psychological evaluations should address any mitigating circumstances present that may have affected the defendant's judgment, perception or intent in committing the offenses. There are several mitigating factors that relate specifically to psychological assessment. For example, a psychological disorder may have made the defendant more susceptible to provocation, or may explain, excuse or justify the defendant's behavior, which led to commission of the crime. Further, the psychological disorder may affect the person's ability to purposely, knowingly, or negligently commit the act if his capacity to appreciate the criminal nature of the conduct engaged in at the time of the offense, and/or conform said conduct to the requirements of law was substantially impaired. The evaluation may establish that the defendant is unlikely to commit another offense, or is very likely to respond positively to treatment and probation.
A psychological evaluation to assess mitigating circumstances should evaluate the defendant's behavior in terms of any identified psychological disorders or characteristics, clarify how the disorder may have affected the individual's ability to form the mental state necessary to commit the offense, and indicate how treatment can or will reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses.
Case preparation services are available to assist defense and plaintiff attorneys working on cases with psychological or psychiatric issues including researching the relevant professional literature to help developspecific direct and cross-examination strategies.
Forensic Psychological Services in Criminal Cases (Juvenile and Adult) -Criminal Responsibility / sanity evaluations -Preparation of Cross Examination Mental Health Expert Witnesses -Deposition Preparation -Competency To Proceed Evaluations -Adult Pre-sentencing Evaluations -Competency to waive Miranda Rights -Current Mental Status -Mitigating Factors -Downward Departure Evaluations -Capital Murder Phase 2 Evaluations -Violence Risk/Future Dangerousness -Evaluation of Malingering and Deception -False Confession Evaluations -Adult and Juvenile Murder -Mental State at the Time of the Offense -Juvenile Pre-sentencing Evaluations -Juvenile Probation Evaluations -Neuropsychological Assessments
Psychological characteristics, level and quality of motivation, personality traits, psychopathology, and historical behavioral patterns often have significant bearing on legal issues, and the outcome of a case may rest on the expert testimony regarding a litigant's psychological profile. When requested or Court-ordered, prepared reports are comprehensive, defensible, based on objective data, and able to withstand rigorous scrutiny in court. Every effort is made to answer the questions at issue, and to assist the trier of fact in coming to the most accurate conclusions.