Sam Houston State University professionals in the fields of Law and Forensic Psychology joined together to present an experiential learning experience for Clinical Psychology Ph.D. students enrolled in the Forensic Assessment course taught by Dr. Mary Alice Conroy, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training. In this unique collaboration, Ph.D. students practiced presenting their professional opinions as expert witnesses in a simulated hearing to determine the competency of a criminal defendant to stand trial. Dr. Gene Roberts, Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Student Legal and Mediation Services Center, cross-examined the student expert witnesses.
At the first simulated hearing, Hannah Benemann testified as the forensic expert, while fellow Ph.D. student Hadley McCartin conducted the direct examination. Ms. Benemann began her testimony by explaining the legal standard to determine competency to stand trial. She provided details from her expert report to explain her findings regarding the defendant’s competency. During his cross-examination, Dr. Roberts asked intense questions of the expert in order to provide the Trier of Fact, the Judge, with the most accurate information to make a determination of competency to stand trial.
The process continued with the second simulated hearing in which Alison Concannon was the expert witness and Inneke Vargas handled the direct exam. At the last hearing, the expert witness was Kennedy Anderson, and Sarah Hernandez asked the questions on direct exam. The other three students in the Forensics Psychology course, Brianna Davis, Kayla Spenard, and Aislinn Tansey, will participate in a future simulated hearing.
Dr. Roberts has assisted in this learning experience for the past ten years. At these simulated hearings, Dr. Roberts changes his cross-examination approach for each student so that the entire class is exposed to a gamut of questioning strategies. By both showcasing different techniques to cross-examine an expert witness and providing incisive feedback and advice to each of the Forensic Psychology Ph.D. students, Dr. Roberts hopes to provide the students an idea of what they will experience as an expert witness in forensic psychology.
Many thanks to Dr. Gene Roberts and Dr. Conroy for allowing LEAP students to observe this unique and innovative academic exercise!