Dubious psychological tests presented in court

| Feb 25, 2020 | Criminal Defense, Criminal Law, CRIMINAL LAW

When people in New Jersey face criminal charges, they may come up against even more problems in the courtroom. According to researchers, many of the psychological, IQ and other evaluation tests taken into account by courts may have little scientific basis, if any. These tests can have an influence on how juries and judges evaluate a particular defendant, the type of sentence they receive and whether they are held in pre-trial detention before their case comes to court. Scientists who evaluated hundreds of tests used in courtrooms across the country found that a full 33% were not reviewed in the scientific literature.

In some cases, there may be no legitimate scientific basis at all for the tests, yet courts could give them significant weight in evaluating a person’s capacity or character. Of the tests that had been evaluated through peer review, only 40% were considered reliable while 25% were considered unreliable in scientific literature. Under the rules of evidence, courts are only supposed to consider psychological testing when it is scientifically proven. However, test developers and individual psychologists may author reports or speak in support of tests regardless of their scientific standing.

This is not the only occasion in which dubious evidence has been used against criminal defendants. In a 2009 study, the National Research Council found that many forensic scientific techniques introduced in court had little to no scientific basis. They said that many people may have been wrongfully convicted due to this kind of “junk science.” Reforms were supposed to crack down on unscientific standards, but researchers say that faulty evidence continues to be a real problem.

People facing criminal charges may face systemic biases and the threat of jail time, heavy fines and a felony record if convicted. A criminal defense attorney may work to challenge dubious evidence and aim to prevent a conviction.


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