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Psychology tests in court could be faulty, study says

Some people in New Jersey who are facing misdemeanor or felony charges may find themselves being required to take psychological and IQ tests that are not supported by evidence. According to a study that appeared in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a third of the tests used are not reviewed in any professional publications. Only 40% of those that were reviewed were considered reliable while almost one-quarter were not. Despite this, the validity of these tests was challenged less than 3% of the time.

The study used data from more than 800 court cases that happened between 2016 and 2018. While the most frequently used test, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, has generally positive professional reviews, the second most commonly used, the Rorschach test, is considered too ambiguous by many professionals.

Previous studies have also addressed how science is used in court. According to a 2009 study by the National Research Council, innocent people could have been convicted by faulty forensics. Although the report led to talk of reform at the time, some experts say too little has been done. One professor of law and psychology says the unsolicited brochures he receives advertising new tests from vendors no longer contain information about their effectiveness. A defense attorney points out that the court system relies on psychology professionals to regulate these tests.

One way an attorney might approach a defense is by bringing in expert witnesses to testify about the unreliability of certain forensic or test results. There are a number of other strategies that might be followed as well. For example, an attorney might demonstrate that eyewitness accounts may be unreliable or seek to have any evidence dismissed that may have been obtained illegally. A person who is facing felony or misdemeanor charges may want to talk to an attorney about defense strategies.