Psychological Assessments in Legal Contexts: Are Courts Keeping “Junk Science” Out of the Courtroom?

Tess M.S. Neal, Christopher Slobogin, Michael J. Saks, David L. Faigman, Kurt F. Geisinger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations

Abstract

In this article, we report the results of a two-part investigation of psychological assessments by psychologists in legal contexts. The first part involves a systematic review of the 364 psychological assessment tools psychologists report having used in legal cases across 22 surveys of experienced forensic mental health practitioners, focusing on legal standards and scientific and psychometric theory. The second part is a legal analysis of admissibility challenges with regard to psychological assessments. Results from the first part reveal that, consistent with their roots in psychological science, nearly all of the assessment tools used by psychologists and offered as expert evidence in legal settings have been subjected to empirical testing (90%). However, we were able to clearly identify only about 67% as generally accepted in the field and only about 40% have generally favorable reviews of their psychometric and technical properties in authorities such as the Mental Measurements Yearbook. Furthermore, there is a weak relationship between general acceptance and favorability of tools’ psychometric properties. Results from the second part show that legal challenges to the admission of this evidence are infrequent: Legal challenges to the assessment evidence for any reason occurred in only 5.1% of cases in the sample (a little more than half of these involved challenges to validity). When challenges were raised, they succeeded only about a third of the time. Challenges to the most scientifically suspect tools are almost nonexistent. Attorneys rarely challenge psychological expert assessment evidence, and when they do, judges often fail to exercise the scrutiny required by law.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-164
Number of pages30
JournalPsychological Science in the Public Interest
Volume20
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

Keywords

  • Daubert
  • assessment
  • evaluation
  • expert
  • forensic
  • law
  • legal
  • psycholog*
  • psychometric

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)

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