People in Virginia facing criminal charges may already feel as if they have difficult obstacles to surmount. They may face serious consequences if convicted, and law enforcement agencies and the state are on the other side of the courtroom. However, some criminal defendants’ struggles may be made more challenging when inaccurate or pseudoscientific psychological tests are allowed in as evidence in a criminal case. These tests may have bearing on the assessment of a defendant’s competence, the sentence they receive, their likelihood to re-offend and their eligibility to avoid pretrial detention. In short, psychological tests in the courtroom may have a significant effect on a person’s freedom and future.
While people may expect that only reliable tests are used in criminal cases, especially given that the federal rules of evidence require the acceptance of only scientifically well-regarded tests, one study says that this is often not the case. Researchers examined hundreds of different tests used to measure defendants’ IQ or other psychological characteristics in the courtroom. They found that a full 33% of these tests had never faced peer review in a prominent, reputable academic journal. Of the tests that had been reviewed, only 40% were considered accurate, while another 25% were considered unreliable.
This means that defendants may face serious threats to their rights due to what the researchers labeled “junk science.” They noted that few of these testing modalities are challenged in the courtroom as unreliable and noted that criminal defense lawyers may be able to exclude tests when the scientific data does not support them. Only 3% of cases saw challenges to the use of these tests.
Flawed psychological tests may be only one portion of the obstacles faced by people accused of a crime. A criminal defense attorney may work to challenge police accusations and prosecution evidence, aiming to prevent a conviction.