Bruce D. Sales
Virginia L. Roberts Professor of Criminal Justice
J.D., Northwestern University
Ph.D., University of Rochester
Psychology of Law and Society
While legal formalism posits that law is independent of society, the law and society movement has demonstrated that behavioral and social factors influence the way that legal actors draft the law (the 'law in the books') and then implement it (the 'law in action'). Within this law and society perspective, my scholarly interests center on two major concerns: psychology of law and legal processes, and the psychology of law in society.
A long term scholarly interest of mine has been on finding ways to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and justness of law and legal processes. At the same time, I am interested in evaluating the quality of the science that has been conducted in law and social science scholarship, with the goal of identifying its shortcomings and finding appropriate ways to overcome those limitations. Although science can address factual disputes inherent in legal decision-making, it all too often is put forward when it does not address the appropriate legal question, does not address the question appropriately, or cannot address the question because the answer lies in a non-scientific domain such as ethics, values, and legal norms.
A number of my recent projects fall squarely into the psychology of law and legal processes. For example, in Courtroom Modifications for Child Witnesses: Law and Science in Forensic Evaluations (with S. Hall; American Psychological Association, 2008), a colleague and I revisited the use of courtroom modifications for child witnesses who are asked to testify in criminal and civil proceedings against alleged perpetrators of sexual or physical abuse. As part of this project, we were able to reassess the science addressing which courtroom modifications work best with different categories of children exhibiting trauma, what forensic evaluation and testimony ought to entail to satisfy legal, scientific and professional standards in this area, what is the quality of assessment instruments for this type of evaluation, and where legal policy and science should be directed to improve the effectiveness and justness of modification hearings. In Scientific Jury Selection (with J. Lieberman; American Psychological Association, 2007), a colleague and I analyzed the social science relevant to the selection of juries, and found that many if not most of the claims about the use of social science to select juries were overblown. We went on to describe what the science actually teaches us about the selection process, under what conditions it can be used to benefit the attorney's work in litigation, how the science of jury selection can be improved, and what are the moral and ethical implications of using social science in the jury selection process. Other examples of my recent scholarship in this category include: Criminal Profiling: Developing an Effective Science and Practice (with S. Hicks; American Psychological Association, 2006), which is discussed below; Experts in Court: Reconciling Law, Science, and Professional Knowledge (with D. Shuman; American Psychological Association, 2005); and Family Mediation: Facts, Myths and Future Prospects (with C. Beck; American Psychological Association, 2001). Currently, I have contracts for three new books that fit into this broad category of scholarship.
In addition to using psychological science to study law and legal processes, I am increasingly interested in law in society questions. Currently, I have two books under contract, and also am working on a third book, which address concerns in this domain.
Psychology of Criminal Behavior and Justice
The psychology of law and legal processes, discussed earlier, can be focused on criminal and civil justice processes. In addition, while many disciplines can contribute to the understanding and controlling of crime and criminal behavior, psychological science can provide unique insights into deviant and antisocial behavior. Another significant component of my current scholarship focuses on some of these concerns, particularly the psychology of offenders and the criminal justice process. For example, two colleagues and I, in Sex Offending: Causal Theories to Inform Research, Prevention, and Treatment (with J. Stinson and J. Becker; American Psychological Association, 2008), critically analyzed existing causal theories of sex offending behaviors in juveniles and adults, found them inadequate, and proposed a new theory to explain the etiology of this criminal behavior. In a companion article that recently appeared in the journal Violence & Victims (2008), we provided initial empirical support for the accuracy of our theory. In regard to the psychology of the criminal justice process, a colleague and I, in our book Criminal Profiling: Developing an Effective Science and Practice (with S. Hicks; American Psychological Association, 2006), critically analyzed the existing approaches to criminal profiling and found that all were substantially flawed. Using our knowledge of psychological science, we then articulated how a science of criminal profiling could and should be built to aid in law enforcement efforts. Currently, I am engaged in preliminary work on several new topics in this domain.