Psychological Autopsy and Forensic Investigation

Forensic psychology is essential for proper forensic psychological assessment, investigation, and autopsy, in addition to forensic science professionals. In such cases, such as; Drug overdose, drowning, accidents, medical claims, staged murder, mass suicide (Delhi Burari Case1, Sangli Family Case2), successful suicide (Sushant Singh Rajput Case3, Sunanda Pushkar case4), and equivocal fatalities where the crime scene portrays a different story, a psychological autopsy should also be done. At present time psychological autopsies are usually done by untrained police officers, who inadvertently influence the investigation’s conclusions, as demonstrated in the Arushi murder case.

The inferences about the deceased person’s objectives and mental state just before his or her death are highly crucial in building the case and determining the causes for his or her death and may be examined using a psychological autopsy as a key technique. In recent years, psychological autopsies have become a popular study method for examining risk factors for successful suicides. This has been greatly influenced by the suicide research “truism” that around 90% of suicide decedents had one or more diagnosable mental illnesses. Despite this, the discipline of forensic psychology is still in its infancy and can only be given a legitimate approach and recognition with additional study, standardization, and documentation. There hasn’t been any attempt to comprehensively examine the body of research, despite the fact that a number of Psychological Autopsy studies have been published.

Additionally, there are a number of drawbacks to the recognized Psychological Autopsy interview procedures. Some of the major methodological flaws that have, purportedly, raised concerns about the admissibility of psychological autopsy evidence in courts include:

  • Absence of standardized instruments or methods,
  • Informant bias,
  • A lack of interviewer training,
  • Recall bias (due to time elapsed between the event and the interview),
  • And, Problems with the selection of controls.

In India, the evidence is gathered by the police and brought to the jurisdiction’s forensic laboratory, where it is scientifically examined. A forensic psychologist’s job should ideally start with the preliminary investigation of the case, interviewing witnesses and suspects. In order to effectively carry out fair trials, the official interview and evaluation are subsequently employed as supporting evidence in a court of law.

In a medico-legal ward, a forensic psychologist can also carry out court-ordered rehabilitation treatment on offenders or victims. According to Section 45 of Indian Evidence Act the 1872, “Opinions of experts”, a forensic psychologist uses information and expertise to aid to the legal system. It must be remembered that forensic psychologists serve as experts who share their knowledge and experience with the jury, serving as corroborative evidence.

A forensic psychologist should also required for the standard and quick inspection of crime sites as well as for the immediate counselling of victims (if still alive), notably in situations involving rape victims, family members, relatives, and friends. Programs like Micro-expressions, statement analysis, AI-based Human Behaviour Analysis, and additional research methods including Polygraph, Voice Spectrography, Narco Analysis, and Brain Electrical Oscillations Signature (BEOS) profiling are available for forensic psychological investigations. Therefore, the investigating agency must employ psychological investigation techniques to determine the truth if the victim’s statements are inconclusive or if key witnesses can be found. Most notably in cases of suicide or murder it may be taken into account during the inquiry. People nowadays encounter higher levels of stress, irregular sleeping patterns, and other constraints in their personal and professional life that can only be exposed through psychological aspects. As a result, forensic psychology is a rapidly growing discipline of psychology that is also crucial to crime scene investigations.

Related Cases

1.“Burari Deaths” refers to the eleven family members of the Chundawat family from Burari, Delhi, India, who committed mass ritual suicide in 2018. Ten individuals were discovered hanging, while the grandmother, the family’s oldest member, was strangled. On July 1, 2018, the early morning hours following the tragedy, the bodies were discovered.

2. Sangli Family Case was a grim reminder of a similar case in 2018 in Delhi’s Burari, where 11 members of a family were found dead, most of them hanging in their house. The bodies were gagged and blindfolded, and their hands were tied behind their backs.

3. In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput, the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CFSL) team of the CBI will do a psychiatric autopsy. The CFSL team will examine all of Sushant Singh Rajput’s social media posts as part of the actor’s psychological autopsy. The autopsy will also look at his WhatsApp conversations and journal entries. To learn more about Sushant’s emotions and behaviour, the team will speak with his friends, coworkers, and family. The investigation team will also look at Sushant’s behaviour and lifestyle changes from his earliest years in Mumbai until the day of his passing.

4. In Sunanda Pushkar case after gathering testimony from her relatives and friends, who confirmed that the marriage was “strained,” the special investigation team (SIT) of the south district police performed a “psychological autopsy” to determine if Shashi Tharoor and his wife Sunanda Pushkar had “marital-discord”.

About The Author

This article is written by Anupama Singh. She has done her graduation in psychology and is currently doing research in the same field.

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