December 19, 2007

Are trial lawyers an endangered species?

The University of Pennsylvania Law Review has a special issue on the changing landscape of U.S. criminal law, especially in the federal system. With plea bargains the norm, trials – which bring the possibility of acquittal – are becoming rarer. The articles are in response to an earlier essay by law professor Ronald F. Wright entitled "Trial Distortion and the End of Innocence in Federal Criminal Justice."

This trend has direct relevance to the practice of forensic psychology. Without the truth-exploring forum of a trial, both trial lawyers and expert witnesses could go the way of the Siberian tiger. Our primary product becomes a written report that can aid the parties in their plea negotiations, by elucidating the nexus between an individual’s psychological dynamics or mental state and a specific legal issue (such as specific intent to commit a crime or risk to public safety).

The entire debate is available online.

Hat tip to the Concurring Opinions blog for alerting me to this debate. Photo credits: Amber Rhea, sign on old Suntrust building in downtown Decatur, Illinois; Zoo Stream, Siberian tiger (Creative Commons license).