Flagler Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Joshua Behl
Jul 22, 2022
Dr. Joshua Behl is an Assistant Professor of Criminology and the Director of the Criminology program. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Florida in August of 2016 where he also received his BA and MA. Dr. Behl's research interests are found at the intersection of psychology and the law. Using criminological, psychological, and sociological theories, he has researched the topics of witness behavior, alibis, and jury decision-making. Dr. Behl applies this research to real-world cases in his work as a trial consultant.
What is your favorite course to teach and why?
This is a complicated question as each course is so different and unique. If I had to choose between my top two, I would pick CRM 260: Criminological Theory or SOC/CRM 303: Sociology of Law (proposed to be renamed Law and Society). Both are heavily theory-based courses that try to answer fundamental questions of our system – why people commit crime or how has society determined what should be defined as criminal, respectively. These courses offer the greatest opportunity for students to critically analyze our system and the assumptions that are present. Most students leave this course with a different, more nuanced perspective on crime and our system compared to when they began the class.
What is your area of expertise?
Broadly defined, my area of expertise is legal decision-making. Training under a legal psychologist in a sociology and criminology department ensured that my education was heavily interdisciplinary. To that end, my research uses psychological principles to analyze issues in the criminal justice system. Therefore, I am an expert in witness behavior and jury decision-making. More specifically, alibis and corroborators, and jurors’ decisions/perceptions of witnesses/arguments in civil litigation.
What made you interested in that particular area/topic?
Honestly, this was never part of my plan. Call it fate, the hand of God, or whatever you’d like, but I never intended to be a criminology major – I wanted to be a clinical psychologist. After some miscommunicating with my freshman year academic advisor at UF, I was told that I was kicked out of the psychology major and had two options – sociology or criminology – or I was expelled from UF. Not knowing what sociology was, I decided to major in criminology. A few semesters later, as I was continuing to take psychology classes with the hope of transferring back to that discipline, I took a Psychology and Law class co-taught by Dr. Lisa Hasel and Dr. Lora Levett. The course basically was a combination of my previous major and my current one, and I absolutely fell in love with the topics that were discussed. Dr. Levett would go on to become my Ph.D. advisor. Between the threat of expulsion and taking a class with Dr. Levett, my entire career trajectory changed. I truly owe more to Lora than I could ever possibly express – not only did she take a chance on accepting me as a Ph.D. student, but she also introduced me to the field that I fell in love with. It’s quite rare to get your Ph.D. under the person that introduced you to the field, so I count myself immensely blessed.
If someone was interested in learning more about the topic, what reading suggestions would you make?
Wow. This is a difficult question. I suppose it depends on what aspects of the field they are interested in. If someone wanted to learn more about Criminological Theories, I would recommend either Criminological Theories: Introduction, Evaluation, and Application by Akers, Sellers, and Jennings or Criminal Theory Profiles: Inside the Minds of Theorists of Crime and Deviance by Lenny Steverson and myself. Both texts analyze a wide range of theoretical ideas from varying perspectives.
If you are interested in Alibis and Corroborators, there is currently only one text on the subject out there – and I happen to be a co-editor of that text too. Alibis and Corroborators: Psychological, Criminological, and Legal Perspectives is an edited volume that combines the study of alibis from varying disciplines and perspectives to be a first of its kind, state of the science on the topic. My co-editor, Dr. Megan Kienzle, and I are fortunate to have contributors from all over the world, including Canada and Europe contributing to this text.
Finally, for jury decision-making, probably the best, most comprehensive text is The Psychology of Juries edited by Dr. Margaret Kovera. While this is a heavily academic book, it also provides the readers with a comprehensive call for future research so the reader is left understanding not only what we know, but areas for future research. Of course, there are other, significant texts in this area (e.g., Inside the Juror, Inside the Jury, The Psychology of Tort Law, etc.).
What book is on your nightstand right now? And why did you choose it?
Two books currently sit on my nightstand – The Bible and The Reckoning by John Grisham. Obviously, the Bible is there as a religious text to help guide and direct my life. The Grisham book (and it won’t be on my nightstand for long) is for entertainment. I don’t particularly enjoy crime movies or TV shows, but Grisham is the exception. His writing style and story-telling ability is, in my opinion, some of the best. I also have a few of Malcolm Gladwell’s books that I read for fun – those don’t last long on my nightstand either.
What has been your favorite piece of research you have conducted? And why?
This is a difficult question as my research can’t really be viewed in a vacuum as a single piece. For example, I have a line of research on juror’s credibility ratings of witnesses who answer in complete v. incomplete sentences. My co-author, Dr. Kienzle, and I have done 3-4 studies that all build off each other in that line of research. Similarly, as a result of writing our textbook, Dr. Steverson and I have both enlisted the aid of students who have helped us pursue interests we discovered during that project. Therefore, it is difficult to say what has been a “favorite”. However, I would say that any project I work on with students are the most fulfilling as you watch your student’s passion for a topic grow.
What are five words you would use to describe your style in the classroom?
Why is it important for the College to have a major in Criminology?
Criminology is an important discipline for Flagler College, or any college, because it helps teach students to be more informed citizens. Criminology sits in this unique intersection between Sociology (where Criminology came from), psychology, law, political science, and public administration/affairs. By undertaking the academic study of crime and deviance, students are exposed to, and expected to critically analyze the long-term effects of public policy decisions as well as the basic structure of our system of government. For Flagler, being steeped in the liberal arts tradition, a Criminology degree helps a student leave as a more informed, responsible citizen while also providing necessary credentialing for a plethora of careers.
What is one thing that no one would guess about you?
I’m a pretty open book, so I’m not sure there are any secrets.