Being a Forensic Expert Witness
Dr. Jane K. McNaught is a locally and nationally recognized Forensic Expert Witness . Over the course of her more than 35 years of practice, she has worked with Defense and Plaintiff attorneys and has also been a Court appointed expert. Dr. McNaught has also been qualified and testified as an expert for the United States Army and Navy in the area of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She has administered more than 1700 psychological test batteries; and testified on over 500 occasions as a forensic expert regarding adults and children in the areas of civil, criminal, and family law. Dr. McNaught has been qualified as an expert in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota, Colorado, Ohio, and California. She has also been qualified as an expert in both District and Federal court. Additionally, Dr. McNaught provides trial consultation and case preparation services for Defense and Plaintiff attorneys when psychological or psychiatric distress is in question. Learn more about Dr. Jane K. McNaught >
What is Forensic Psychology?
A common misperception is that a Forensic Psychologist deals with the dead. Images of CSI not uncommonly come to mind when this term is first heard. However, the word forensic means connected to the legal justice system. Forensic Psychology is the intersection of the practice or study of psychology, and the justice system. Any specialist such as a psychologist, physician, sociologist or dentist can serve as a legal expert. When doing so, they are referred to as a Forensic expert. Hence the term Forensic Psychologist refers to a psychologist that is interfacing with the legal system and providing expert testimony to the court or attorneys. Forensic Psychologists may work directly with: attorneys, defendants, offenders, victims, institutional settings, families, or with patients within the state corrections or rehabilitation centers. Forensic Psychologists hold a doctoral degree in a field of psychology. They also have specialized training in Forensic Psychology. Specialized training provides the Forensic Psychologist with training in the legal areas in which they work. In addition, the Forensic Psychologist is trained in to use psychological tests that meet the highest standards of objectivity and reliability. In a clinical setting the psychologist accepts the client’s view as truth. In the role of the forensic psychologist, the psychologist retains an objective role that involves investigative work to substantiate information provided by the client. Psychological testing is also utilized to substantiate claims of mental illness or emotional damages. Forensic Psychologists working directly with attorneys or the court may provide psychological testing, personality assessment, assessment of mitigating factors, assessment of sexual offenders, competency evaluations, and make recommendations regarding parental custody or visitation.
- +Why Use a Psychological Expert to Help Prepare Your Case?
A Psychologist testifying as an expert witness can help Judges and Juries better understand psychological problems that impact forensic decisions. For example, in civil cases, questions of emotional damages related to injury often arise. A psychologist who administers psychological testing can diagnose the presence of, or lack of, alleged emotional injuries related to the incident in question. Rather than making subjective statements, psychologists rely on psychological testing to confirm a diagnosis of emotional injury.
- +Why is Psychological Testing Important?
- Just as a physician administers tests, such as an MRI, EKG or CT scan to diagnose a patients’ illness, a psychologist uses psychological tests to assist in the diagnosis of mental illness and psychological problems. The most respected psychological tests utilized are standardized and allow the psychologist to compare the patient with a normal population of adults or children of the same age. The results of such testing can be used as demonstrative evidence when the psychologist testifies. Test data becomes a way for the psychologist to present hard data to the Judge and Jury. Psychological testing adds significant credibility when the psychologist testifies in court. Computerized interpretations further provide access to a large, normative base and eliminate examiner bias.
There are a number of psychological tests proven to be valid and reliable in assessing symptoms of mental illness, emotional distress, cognitive and intellectual impairment, and personality traits. There are also test instruments that can assess malingering and dissimulation, which frequently occur in the context of legal issues.
- +What's Included in a Forensic Psychological Evaluation?
- When hired as an expert, Dr. McNaught reviews medical and mental health treatment records, academic records, previous psychological examinations, employment records, and other legal documents. She then proceeds with a clinical interview to obtain a social history. Well-validated, reliable psychological testing as well as situation-specific inventories are then administered. Contact with collateral sources is conducted as needed.
Following the evaluation, Dr. McNaught provides an oral or written report, as requested. Her reports are comprehensive and based on solid clinical assessment as well as an objective review of the pertinent records. The goal of these evaluations is to compare psychological testing and interview data with medical, counseling, and legal records in order to assess credibility and psychological functioning. Such evaluations further assess pre-existing, co-existing, and post-injury events on the client’s present psychological functioning.
- +Forensic Psychology or Forensic Psychiatry
- A Forensic Psychologist holds a doctoral degree in a field of psychology. The Forensic Psychologist should have significant training in the area of psychopathology as well as clinical training. In addition, the Forensic Psychologist also has advanced graduate or post-graduate training in Forensic Psychology. Advanced training in Forensic Psychology provides the psychologist with an understanding of the legal issues involved in the chosen areas of practice in Forensic psychology. This training also focuses on the use of statistically sound psychological testing that enhances court credibility and provides an objective avenue for diagnosing the client. In contrast, a Forensic Psychiatrist is trained as a medical doctor with a residency in Psychiatry. The residency exposes the psychiatrist to information about the use of drugs to treat mental illness, and provides the psychiatrist with education about treating various clinical populations.
Unlike the Forensic Psychiatrist, the Forensic Psychologist is trained to administer psychological testing used to diagnose individuals involved in legal situations. Standardized psychological testing provides a scientific basis for the psychologist’s opinion. Psychiatrists can render an opinion about clinical diagnosis but lack the standardized testing background to provide substantiation for their testimony.
- Typically, the referring attorney contacts Dr. McNaught regarding forensic evaluations and forensic testimony. Dr. McNaught will obtain a brief background from the attorney regarding the referral. The attorney will be provided with a retainer agreement, to be signed by the attorney and/or client. Dr. McNaught will then request that the attorney send a letter outlining the questions to be addressed in the evaluation or court testimony. Attorneys are also asked to provide Dr. McNaught with the pertinent legal, medical and mental health documents for review, prior to the client’s appointment or report summarizing Dr. McNaught’s opinions.
- +Critique of Other Professionals' Reports
- Critiquing the work of others typically involves comparing the evaluative procedures used by the other professional, to the current standard of care for the evaluation in question. Such critiques also address the psychological testing relied upon as well as the accuracy of the conclusions based on the testing.
Dr. McNaught spends approximately fifty percent of her time in forensic evaluations and services. Dr. McNaught is hired on an approximately equal basis by both the Defense and Plaintiff, in addition to being frequently appointed as a neutral examiner by the court.
Forensic Expert Witness, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD in the context of civil, criminal, and family law cases.
- +Civil Suits
- Civil Suits for both Plaintiff and Defense, involving adults and children. Areas of expertise: PTSD claims related to sexual and physical abuse as well as physical injury; civil suits where PTSD, Claims of Pain and Suffering, and/or Emotional Distress are at issue. Examples of expert evaluation and testimony: Wrongful Death; Infant Death; Workplace Suits involving Sexual Harassment /Gender/ or Age Discrimination; Allegations of institutional sexual abuse in schools, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, and treatment centers; and Medical and Psychological malpractice cases involving PTSD.
- +Criminal Cases
- Prosecution and Defense Cases involving juveniles and adults include: Sexual Misconduct, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and other mental health issues that may impact sentencing. Retained expert in US Army and Navy criminal cases involving PTSD.
Testimony regarding interview techniques used with alleged victims; and credibility issues with adult and child victims.
- +Family Law
- High conflict custody evaluations involving allegations of sexual or physical abuse/ personality disordered parents; post decree evaluations regarding relocation and endangerment; factitious disorder imposed on another (previously Munchausen by proxy); parental alienation; parenting consultation; and parental capacity evaluations.
Dr. McNaught is also frequently obtained by couples going through a divorce to act as their “Child Specialist”. With her long history of working with children and families going through divorce, as well as her experience in child development and parenting training, Dr. McNaught’s services are often obtained by The Collaborative Law Group in Edina, MN., as well as other attorneys and parents who are looking for guidance about how and what to tell the children about divorce. In this role, Dr. McNaught provides education about child development, divorce research, parenting skills, and communication and conflict resolution skills for the parents. Dr. McNaught can also assist parents in developing a parenting plan that is most appropriate for their child/children.
- +Juvenile Court
- Parental fitness and capacity; termination of parental rights; criminal sexual misconduct charges against juveniles; recantation; and children’s memory.
- +Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Dr. McNaught has been qualified as an expert by the United States Army and the United States Navy in the area Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often occurs when an individual is exposed to a life-threatening event or one that the individual perceives as an extreme trauma or potentially life threatening. PTSD was first identified in Viet Nam Veterans returning from combat. PTSD now is a diagnosis often used for adult and child victims of sexual assault and personal injury. PTSD is often also alleged in the context of civil suits involving discrimination, harassment, and wrongful termination. Dr. McNaught uses psychological testing and thorough review of medical and counseling records to determine the evidence and extent of PTSD. As a result of her years of clinical experience, Dr. McNaught is well versed in the type and duration of treatment required to treat PTSD victims. Only 25% of individuals exposed to a traumatic event experience prolonged PTSD. Careful evaluation and documentation of symptoms and collateral information must be obtained to determine if the plaintiff is suffering from PTSD. If so, causation must also be determined.
- +Emotional and Physical Injury
- Dr. McNaught specializes in employment evaluations, and psychological damages related to an accident or injury. In evaluating the impact of the injury, Dr. McNaught is skilled in the use of psychological testing as well as the review of medical records to detect the genuineness versus exaggeration or malingering of psychological and neuropsychological symptoms. Her extensive background in treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in children and adults contributes to Dr. McNaught’s effectiveness in the trial setting, either for consultation or trial testimony.
- +Sexual Assault/ Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
- Dr. McNaught is well versed in workplace requirements for dealing with sexual assault/sexual harassment. Dr. McNaught works with both the Plaintiff and Defense and provides consultation to attorneys regarding such cases, and often is asked to critique other professional’s reports. In other cases, Dr. McNaught conducts a psychological evaluation of the alleged victim to determine the nature and extent of the alleged emotional injury as well the impact on functioning. Psychological testing is used to assess malingering in the context of such complaints. Additionally, Dr. McNaught obtains a complete family history and reviews medical, counseling and employment records, to assess the plaintiff’s prior existing condition as well as post injury history.
- In tort cases involving age, sexual, or gender discrimination, Dr. McNaught can assist Plaintiff and Defense lawyers by evaluating the emotional impact of such events. The various forms of workplace discrimination can result in depression, feelings of hopelessness, financial loss, and intense grief. However, these same symptoms can be caused by other factors. Psychological testing, review of the medical and counseling records, family history, and employment records are used to evaluate the cause, impact, and credibility of such complaints.
- +School/Hospital Litigation
- Dr. McNaught’s specialty in this area is evaluating students (children and adolescents) and employees when allegations of sexual impropriety or assault occur within the school setting or hospital setting. Dr. McNaught has conducted evaluations of children, adolescents, and vulnerable adults alleging abuse or inappropriate boundaries by a hospital or care facility employee. Her experience in this area involves numerous school districts and hospitals as well as other care facilities for the handicapped throughout Minnesota as well as other states.
- +False Allegations
- Although rare, false allegations of sexual and physical assault, in the context of divorce and criminal cases, are devastating to both the victim and alleged abuser. On college campuses as well as high schools, victims can make false allegations in search of attention or due to personality disorders or impaired reality testing. If sexual assault or inappropriate touching has occurred, the victim needs to be protected. However, identifying false allegations of abuse is critical to the welfare of the victim as well as the falsely accused defendant.
Dr. McNaught is a nationally recognized expert in the diagnosis and treatment of child sexual assault. She has provided consultation and testimony in many criminal and family law cases involving such allegations, for both Prosecution and Defense. Evaluating the disclosure and credibility of child victims is a specialized area of expertise. Dr. McNaught’s long history of experience and training in this field means that she is well versed in the research as it relates to child disclosure of abuse, recantation, and false allegations of abuse.
Dr. McNaught has frequently consulted with Minnesota State Policy Boards related to the sexual abuse of children. She has also made presentations at numerous national seminars and has been interviewed by Public Radio, related to the diagnosis and treatment of child sexual abuse victims. Additionally, because of her expertise in performing custody evaluations, she has conducted numerous evaluations where false allegations of sexual or physical abuse are made in the context of custody cases.
- +High-Conflict Divorce
- Although the incidence is relatively small, high conflict divorces create significant challenges for the family court system at the time of divorce as well as subsequent to the decree. High conflict divorces often include one parent trying to emotionally alienate the child from the other parent. Unfortunately, too often, false allegations of physical and sexual abuse also occur in these high conflict cases. Furthermore, in the majority of the high conflict cases, one or both parties have a personality disorder that significantly impairs their communication and relationship with the other parent as well as their children. In such cases, psychological testing is an important tool for the expert to utilize as part of the divorce custody evaluation. Doing custody evaluations in the context of a high conflict divorce requires that the forensic expert has significant expertise and experience in a variety of areas.
Dr. McNaught has extensive training and experience in the clinical treatment of adults and children, forensic training in custody evaluation standards and protocol, as well as over 35 years of conducting custody evaluations, Dr. McNaught is a recognized expert in custody evaluations involving high conflict. Dr. McNaught also has extensive experience in both the diagnosis and treatment of physical and sexual assault as well as boundary violations. Dr. McNaught’s training and experience in personality assessment enables her to identify parents with a personality disorder. Such an assessment is critical in evaluating the credibility of child and parental allegations. Dr. McNaught also recommends parenting plans that work most effectively in such situations.
Dr. McNaught is often appointed by the Court to work with High Conflict post-decree cases, involving endangerment or relocation. She makes recommendations to the Court, based on her evaluation of the parents and children.
Dr. McNaught also provides Parenting Consultation (PC), combining her understanding of divorce issues as they relate to children and adults. Because of her background in Child Development, and extensive experience, Dr. McNaught can assist adults in coming to decisions that are in the best interest of their children. In cases of high conflict, Dr. McNaught utilizes the skills of arbitration and mediation to assist the parents in resolving conflict. Dr. McNaught’s goal as a Parenting Consultant is to assist parents in developing a respectful, business-like relationship as they make decisions together regarding their children.
Dr. McNaught also provides reunification therapy where allegations of physical or sexual abuse have/or have not been substantiated. Reunification between separated parents and children, where allegations of physical, psychological, or emotional abuse have occurred, is an area where particular expertise is required. Dr. McNaught’s training and experience in treating and diagnosing child physical and sexual abuse enables her to be particularly effective in reunification involving such issues. Developmental and safety issues are strong considerations in reunifying estranged parents with their child or adolescent. Dr. McNaught has also done reunification work with young children and adults, where allegations of abuse have been made, but not substantiated.
- +Parental Alienation
- In the current DSM-5, Parental Alienation is now referred to as Child Psychological Abuse. Dr. McNaught provides consultation within the State of Minnesota as well as nationally. On some occasions, she is asked to review the pertinent records and provide an opinion as to possible parental alienation. In other cases, she has been authorized by the Court to evaluate both the parties as well as the children to determine potential Parental Alienation and recommendations for treatment. Finally, Dr. McNaught has frequently been asked to serve as an expert witness in explaining Parental Alienation/Child Psychological Abuse to the Court.
- +Factitious Disorder
- A recent emergence in the context of criminal and family law cases is a phenomenon known as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another. This is the intentional production or feigning of physical or psychological signs or symptoms in another person, typically a child under the adult’s care, in order for the adult to indirectly assume the sick role. Although rare, parents can also use factitious symptoms of a child’s physical or psychological symptoms in the context of parenting and custody disputes. Dr. McNaught has conducted evaluations where Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another has occurred, within the context of both criminal and family law cases. These evaluations require an understanding of the research underlying this complex issue as well as the special skills needed to identify factitious allegations of sexual or physical abuse.
Questions? Contact Dr. McNaught >