Ninaad Deshmukh

  Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai

A criminal offence is one that requires both intention as well as commission of the act of criminality – the mens rea and the actus reus. But, even mere intention to do a wrongful act is itself prohibited by law. An accused will be held guilty if it’s proved that they had an intention to commit the crime. The reason for the same is to provide deterrence to such intentions developing in the minds of persons, which can later reflect negatively in their conduct.

A question that comes to mind is what makes these intentions pop up in the minds of people. It becomes a question of law itself, whether intentions are always a product of the environment, or whether they are solely a product of the brain, or even otherwise. With the growing rate of crime, it has hence become essential and important for government agencies to increase their focus on finding the reason of crime i.e. the psychology of criminals and to be able to devise interventions at individual and social level to improve social conditions.

Criminal psychology is the study of criminal behavior, where term behavior includes Personality, Attitude, Physiology, Learning, Motivation, Thinking and other cognitive Factors which contribute to the act of crime or criminal intentions. The question of why people choose to commit crimes – often in the face of severe consequences – is at the root of criminal psychology. On the other hand, psychology itself has, over the years, engendered significant changes in how legal experts think about the crime and the law, as well as changes in how the mentally ill are treated by the criminal justice system. It is thus very important to understand the psychology of criminals as it enables us to describe, explain, predict and control such behavior.

Criminal psychology hence does more than provide a glimpse into a criminal’s psyche. It goes into tremendous amounts of minute detail in order to try and understand the methods and works of the criminal mind. It assesses various factors and delves thoroughly into all sorts of possible backgrounds and reasons that might have or are known to have given rise to criminal intentions.

At the same time, it also plays a vital role in how current laws with respect to the changes in psychological interpretations, are themselves interpreted and applied. In the courtroom, legal practitioners require a grasp of the defendants’ motivations and actions in order to render fair judgment. Forensic psychologists, as well as other mental health professionals, are thus often called upon to help clinically evaluate the mental states of people who break the law.

Psychology plays a role in police work as well. Criminal profilers—who aim to determine likely suspects through a mix of crime-scene analysis, investigative psychology, and other behavioral sciences—are often forensic psychologists or criminal anthropologists. Law enforcement agencies often rely on these experts to get inside the head of a potential culprit by identifying the perpetrator’s likely personality type, lifestyle habits, and quirks. Thus, criminal psychologists are of immense importance in the legal field.

The roles and responsibilities of a criminal psychologist can hence be divided into four very fundamental criteria:

  • Clinical: In this situation, the psychologist is involved in assessment of an individual in order to provide a clinical judgment. The psychologist can use assessment tools, interview or psychometric tools in order to aid in their assessment. These assessments can help police and other comparable organizations to determine how to process the individual in question. For example, the psychologist helps to find out whether the individual is capable to stand trial, or whether the individual has a mental illness that relates to whether they are able to understand the proceedings.


  • Experimental: In this case, the task of the psychologist is to perform research in order to inform a case. This can involve executing experimental tests for the purposes of illustrating a point or providing further information to courts. This may involve false memory, eyewitness credibility experiments, and more. For example, this way involves questions similar to “how likely would a witness see an object in 100 meters?” that could be answered.


  • Actuarial: This role involves usage of statistics in order to inform a case. A psychologist may be asked to provide the probability of an event occurring. For example, the courts may ask how likely it is that a person will reoffend if a sentence is declined.


  • Advisory: Here, a psychologist may advise police about how to proceed with the investigation. For example, psychologists help to determine the best way to interview the individual, the best way to cross-examine a vulnerable or another expert witness, and how an offender will act after committing the offense.

The field of criminal psychology is hence very significant in the eyes of law. It provides detailed insights in matters of fundamental importance. It is a fluid and dynamic science that helps find out about the most hidden aspect of any criminal offense – the intention behind the mens rea itself.


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