Study examines reliability of psychology tests used in court

Some people in Pennsylvania may be required to take psychological tests that are used in determining what their bail will be set at or what type of sentence they may receive. However, a study that appeared in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest found that about 33% of the psychological tests used in court were not reviewed in the major journals associated with the field. Only 40% of the ones that were reviewed had favorable ratings, and almost 25% were considered unreliable.

A 2009 study also found that science was not always used reliably in the court room. This report from the National Research Council said that incorrect forensic science analyses could have led to the wrongful conviction of innocent people. While it led to talk of reform at the time, according to one professor of law and psychology, too little progress has been made.

The study reviewed 876 court cases that occurred between 2016 and 2018. The test most commonly used in courtrooms, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, has a generally good rating among psychologists. However, in second place is the Rorschach or inkblot test, and many psychologists consider it too ambiguous to be useful. According to one defense attorney, attorneys and judges depend on psychologists to inform them of the reliability of psychological tests during expert testimony.

People who are facing drug charges or any other felony or misdemeanor charges may want to talk to an attorney about the strategy for criminal defense. The attorney may look at the validity of any forensic or psychological testing as well as whether the person’s rights were observed in other ways. For example, if a search and seizure was carried out illegally, that evidence might be dismissed. An attorney may also explain the options for a trial or a plea bargain agreement if one is offered.