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Foresight in Blind Line-up Procedures

To avoid impermissible suggestion, photo arrays and lineups should be administered using double-blind procedures. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Psychology, Public Policy and Law | 2017, Vol. 23, No. 4, 421-437

The Case for Double-Blind Lineup Administration

Authors

Margaret Bull Kovera, John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York
Andrew J. Evelo, John Jay College and the Graduate Center, City University of New York

Abstract

Many have recommended that lineups be conducted by administrators who do not know which lineup member is the suspect (i.e., a double-blind administration). Single-blind lineup administration, in which the administrator knows which lineup member is the suspect, increases the rate at which witnesses identify suspects, increasing the likelihood that both innocent and guilty suspects are identified. Although the increase in correct identifications of the guilty may appear desirable, in fact, this increase in correct identifications is the result of impermissible suggestion on the part of the administrator. In addition to these effects on witness choices, single-blind administration influences witness confidence through an administrator’s feedback to witnesses about their choices, reducing the correlation between witness confidence and accuracy. Finally, single-blind administration influences police reports of the witness’s identification behavior, with the same witness behavior resulting in different outcomes for suspects depending upon whether the administrator knew which lineup member was the suspect. Administrators who know which lineup member is the suspect in an identification procedure emit behaviors that increase the likelihood that witnesses will choose the suspect, primarily by causing witnesses who would have chosen a filler (known innocent member of the lineup who is not the suspect) to choose the suspect. To avoid impermissible suggestion, photo arrays and lineups should be administered using double-blind procedures.

Keywords

confidence, double-blind, eyewitness, identification, lineup administration

Summary of the Research

“Imagine a police officer administering a photo array to a witness knows which photo depicts the suspect. What expectations does that police officer hold? Perhaps the officer is extremely confident that the suspect is the perpetrator and therefore expects (a) that the witness will choose someone from the lineup, (b) that person will be the suspect, and (c) the witness will be confident in her choice. How will those expectations change the behavior of the administrator in comparison to the behavior of an administrator who does not know who the suspect is or what other evidence has been gathered against the suspect. What happens if when witnesses seem to focus on the suspect, administrators tell them to look closely or to take their time but when they focus on fillers, administrators tell them to make sure they look at all the photos. Or perhaps an administrator asks, in response to a witness who says the perpetrator is either the person in the second or third photo, asks what looks familiar about the person in the second photo, the person who happens to be the suspect. Maybe the administrator leans forward or smiles if the witness appears to linger on the suspect’s photo. Is the witness more likely to identify the suspect as a result of these behaviors? If witnesses identify suspects and the administrator praises them for identifying the suspect or merely for being good witnesses, will witnesses be more confident that they have accurately identified the perpetrator of the crime?” (p. 421).

“Concerns about the prevalence of mistaken identifications have led a number of courts to issue rulings intended to protect defendants against being mistakenly identified as a result of suggestive identification procedures. As a matter of law and when circumstances permit a lineup, administrators should not overtly identify the suspect to a witness because this is “unnecessarily suggestive.” The Supreme Court has held repeatedly that identifications obtained using suggestive procedures must be subjected to additional scrutiny to determine whether the identifications are reliable despite the suggestiveness of the procedures (e.g., a test of the totality of the circumstances). Essentially, courts are concerned with the integrity of the eyewitness evidence and the independence of the witness’s recollection of the culprit. Identifications should be based on the independent recollection of the witness and not be the result of unduly suggestive police procedures. To this end, the police routinely collect identifications from witnesses using lineups and photo arrays, which consist of a suspect-who may or may not be the culprit of the crime witnessed-and some number of known-innocent people, referred to as fillers. Fillers serve to protect innocent suspects from identification from witnesses who have poor memories of the culprit yet are willing to make a choice from the lineup anyway” (p. 421-422).

“To guard against administrators unintentionally influencing the witness to choose the suspect, eyewitness scholars began recommending as early as the late 1980s that lineups and photo arrays be conducted by administrators who do not know which person in the lineup is the suspect. The practice of blinding people to aspects of an interaction to reduce the unintentional influence of expectancies on another’s behavior is not new nor is it limited to identification procedures. Double-blind is an adjective that can modify any procedure, interaction, or experiment that may take place between two parties, when both parties (the actor and acted upon) are “blind”-that is without knowledge-about some aspect of the interaction. Double-blind procedures are common in medical experiments that test the effectiveness of a drug versus a placebo. In double-blind conditions, neither the experimenters nor the participants know if the treatment contains the active drug being tested. In a single-blind experiment, the participant does not know what treatment they are receiving but the experimenter does, and this knowledge may affect the experimenters’ behaviors, the participants’ behaviors, and the overall results of the study. For lineups, the important knowledge-the knowledge to which participants in the lineup administration must be “blinded” so that it does not affect the witness’s identification choice-is the knowledge of which lineup member is the suspect. During a double-blind lineup, neither the witness nor the administrator knows which lineup member is the suspect. During a single-blind lineup, the witness does not know which lineup member is the suspect but the administrator does” (p. 422).

Translating Research into Practice

“In addition to influencing witnesses’ identification choices, single-blind procedures allow for administrators to provide feedback to witnesses about their choices. Administrator feedback, whether explicit verbal confirmation or subtler behavioral cues, influences witnesses’ reported confidence in their identifications and their retrospective accounts of the witnessing conditions if it is provided before these reports are made. These findings underscore the importance of collecting witnesses’ confidence statements using pristine administration conditions, including double-blind procedures and instructing the witness that the administrator does not know who the suspect is. Not only will the use of double-blind procedures in combination with immediate recording of witnesses’ confidence statements protect against feedback induced confidence inflation (preserving the diagnostic value of confidence in predicting accuracy), but it will also prevent other undesirable effects of confirming feedback, including impairment of witness memory for the culprit and jurors’ ability to differentiate between accurate and inaccurate eyewitnesses who have received feedback” (p. 428).

“Even with pristine conditions, including double-blind procedures, it is quite possible that at trial, witnesses will be asked to report their confidence as well as detail their recollections of the viewing conditions during the perpetration of the crime. These retrospective accounts may be influenced by the confirmation that the suspect they identified has been indicted and is now standing trial based on their identification. Therefore, it is imperative that in addition to double-blind administration, witnesses’ accounts of the viewing conditions are preserved as soon as possible after the commission of the crime, preferably by a first responder. In addition, their confidence statements must be preserved at the time of the initial identification, before possible contamination by feedback, preferably on videotape so that the recording of the witnesses’ statements is not affected by any administrator expectation” (p. 429).

“These studies also support the idea of audio-visual recording of lineup procedures. Although there is no current evidence that recording the procedures will affect administrator influence, other studies show that law enforcement officials change their behavior when they know they are being recorded. Even if audio-visual recording does not affect administrators, the record would serve as a valuable piece of evidence for the witnesses’ actual choice and confidence as well as provide a basis for expert testimony at trial” (p. 429).

“Although these recommendations to conduct double-blind identification procedures and to make a video record of the administration are often cast as procedures that will benefit the defense, there are many ways in which these changes could benefit the prosecution and the system as a whole. Currently, when an identification results from a single-blind lineup, significant resources are consumed by defense attorneys making motions to suppress the identification and witnesses’ statements about their confidence because they may have been influenced by the administrator” (p. 429).

“When motions to suppress fail, defense attorneys often hire experts to educate the jury about the problems associated with single-blind lineup administration. Costs associated with these efforts to ameliorate the suggestiveness of the lineup procedure (e.g., court time, expert fees) disappear if the lineup is double-blind” (p. 429).

“The applied implication of these findings is that law enforcement must use administrators who are blind to the identity of the suspect to remove the potential for administrators to communicate this information to witnesses and improperly influence witnesses’ decisions. This recommendation has been recently affirmed by the Department of Justice and the National Academy of Sciences. Despite these recommendations, many jurisdictions have yet to put this procedure into practice. However, both research and theory indicate that double-blind procedures are the only way to eliminate the possibility that administrators are affecting witnesses’ decisions and accuracy” (p. 429).

“The most obvious reason for slow implementation of the double-blind procedure is that it is difficult to implement any policy over so large and complex an organization as the U.S. law enforcement system. Even if implementation were simpler, it may be that investigators are unwilling or unable to change. Law enforcement may not be aware of scientific advances made in evidence-based policing or they may not trust eyewitness researchers to recommend reforms, assuming that they often favor the defense. Top down approaches-such as state statutes that explicitly describe best practices-may be the most effective way to spur uniform policy change” (p. 429).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Double-blind lineup administration remains the least studied reform of eyewitness identification procedures (Clark, 2012a). Given the state of the field, there are several areas of inquiry that need further attention from researchers. First, the size of administrator-influence effects varies considerably, which has been a source of some criticism. For instance, some studies find an effect with simultaneous lineups whereas others find it with sequential. Thus, there is a need for the development of a theory that predicts moderators of administrator knowledge and research to test the sufficiency of that theory” (p. 432).

“A second area of inquiry that needs more exploration is the exact nature of the expectancy held by the administrator. We have assumed thus far that the expectation held by the administrator is that the witness will pick the suspect. In line with expectancy effect theory, the expectation by the administrator must be about the witness’s behavior. However, there may be other expectations and beliefs held by the administrator that may affect administrator behaviors and witness decisions. For example, administrators may develop beliefs about how difficult a witness will find the identification task and consequently may be more likely to send suggestive cues to witnesses they believe will have difficulty identifying the suspect” (p. 432).

“A third but highly related question involves research on the exact nature of the information passed to witnesses. Depending on the expectation, the administrator may be conveying different information to the witness. Although this information may take many different forms, researchers have focused on two specific possibilities: information that the culprit is in the lineup or information about which photo is the suspect. Undoubtedly, there is an asymmetric crossover relation between these two forms of information; information about which lineup member is the suspect will imply to the witness that the culprit is in the lineup but information that the culprit is in the lineup does not imply which lineup member is the suspect” (p. 433).

“We have also recommended that in addition to conducting double-blind lineups that officers video record all identification procedures so that there is physical evidence of whether the administrator engaged in any behavior that might have influenced the witness to choose the suspect or that would provide confirming feedback to the witness about the “correctness” of their choice. In practice, even identification procedures that were intended to be double-blind have been eventually contaminated by nonblind administrators entering the room before the identification procedure is complete. Having a video of the identification can preserve the record if this type of contamination occurs. We have little data about whether evaluators of these video records can spot suggestive behavior or confirming feedback. In one study, mock jurors were more likely to believe witnesses whom they saw receive confirming feedback but in another, mock jurors were able to recognize the suggestiveness of single-blind lineup procedures. Although there is no evidence that speaks directly to whether judges and attorneys can recognize the suggestiveness of single-blind lineup procedures, neither judges nor attorneys were sensitive to expectancy effects created by single-blind research on gender discrimination. Thus, more data are needed to know how judges, attorneys, and jurors will evaluate video recordings of identification procedures” (p. 433).

“Finally, to increase the adoption of double-blind procedures, researchers must determine the factors that increase reform efforts, with a special focus on factors that are under the control of advocates (e.g., a strong Innocence Project, cooperative initiatives with chiefs of police) versus factors that are not (e.g., publicity surrounding an innocent suspect identification, large civil suits). Additionally, researchers should determine which source of eyewitness reform is best for implementing change” (p. 433).

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Authored by Amanda Beltrani

Amanda Beltrani is a current doctoral student at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, professional decision making, and cognitive biases.

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To Deny or Confess Guilt?: A Model of Confessions Describing Suspects’ Decision-Making

The current article introduces a model of confessions that provides a comprehensive account of suspects’ decision-making during custodial interrogations. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2017, Vol. 41, No. 1, 80-92

The Interrogation Decision-Making Model: A General Theoretical Framework for Confessions

Authors

Yueran Yang, University of Nevada, Reno
Max Guyll, Iowa State University
Stephanie Madon, Iowa State University

Abstract

This article presents a new model of confessions referred to as the interrogation decision-making model. This model provides a theoretical umbrella with which to understand and analyze suspects’ decisions to deny or confess guilt in the context of a custodial interrogation. The model draws upon expected utility theory to propose a mathematical account of the psychological mechanisms that not only underlie suspects’ decisions to deny or confess guilt at any specific point during an interrogation, but also how confession decisions can change over time. Findings from the extant literature pertaining to confessions are considered to demonstrate how the model offers a comprehensive and integrative framework for organizing a range of effects within a limited set of model parameters.

Keywords

confessions, decision-making, expected utility, police interrogation

Summary of the Research

“In the criminal justice system, a confession is among the most persuasive forms of incriminating evidence. A confession is so persuasive, in fact, that in many cases convictions have been determined on the basis of confession evidence alone… Because of its incriminating power, a confession typically leads to legal sanctions. Because these sanctions can be severe, common sense would seem to suggest that even guilty suspects would deny guilt during a custodial interrogation. On the contrary, however, between 42% and 55% of all interrogated suspects confess, some of whom are innocent” (p. 80).

“Recognizing the advantage of developing broader theory, scholars have advanced a variety of theoretical perspectives that explain why suspects choose to confess when interrogated, including models derived from psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, and decision-making perspectives… These theoretical models have advanced the field by providing explanatory accounts of suspects’ decisions to confess guilt. However, they are limited in the sense that they do not provide a comprehensive analysis of the multifaceted processes that collectively operate within a custodial interrogation… In this article, therefore, we introduce a model of confessions that we refer to as the interrogation decision-making model. Our goal in developing this model was to provide a comprehensive account of suspects’ decision-making during custodial interrogations-an account that is capable of integrating the diversity of ideas and empirical findings that have emerged within the confession literature over the past several decades” (p. 80-81).

“In making a decision, an individual chooses among the options in a decision space, which refers to the collection of all of the choices that one perceives as being available to them at a given point in time. For example, during an interrogation, suspects may perceive themselves as having any number of choices, such as denying guilt, confessing guilt, invoking their Miranda rights, refusing to speak, speaking about unrelated matters, and so forth” (p. 81).

“Deciding between a denial and a confession requires a suspect to consider and weigh the outcomes associated with both choices. To model this complex decision process we draw upon expected utility theory to account for the psychological mechanisms that underlie suspects’ decisions to deny or confess guilt during an interrogation, and specifically make use of the concept of expected utility from behavioral economics. Utility represents the experience of satisfaction, happiness, or “goodness.” Correspondingly, expected utility is the overall amount of utility one expects to experience as the result of a particular outcome. An outcome’s utility has two components: valence and magnitude. A desirably valenced outcome …has a positive utility… whereas an undesirably
valenced outcome … has a negative utility… The magnitude of an outcome’s utility reflects how strongly the outcome is viewed as desirable or undesirable” (p. 81).

“It is important to note that a single decision to deny or to confess is associated with multiple outcomes. Thus, in evaluating the utility of a particular choice, suspects evaluate the overall utility associated with all the outcomes they expect to flow from that decision. Ultimately, suspects choose to either deny or confess guilt based on which choice they expect to yield greater utility” (p. 81).

“[S]uspects evaluate the amount of satisfaction, happiness, or goodness they expect to experience as a result of each particular outcome… In addition to evaluating the utility of each outcome, expected utility theory holds that individuals will also assess the probability that an outcome will actually occur…” (p. 82). “It is well established that human beings temporally discount future outcomes.
That is, people more heavily weight proximal outcomes than distal outcomes because a given benefit is valued more highly the more quickly it is to be received, and a given cost is judged more dear the more quickly it is to be incurred. Empirical research suggests that temporal discounting could influence suspects’ confession decisions wherein they give disproportionate weight to the proximal outcomes experienced during an interrogation, without sufficient consideration of the distal outcomes that may be levied by the judicial system if they are convicted. Drawing on this body of work, the model accounts for suspects’ discounting of distal outcomes…” (p. 82).

“It is important to emphasize that suspects’ perceptions of possible outcomes are subjective rather than objective. Moreover, because the information that is available to suspects can be both insufficient and inaccurate, their subjective judgments may not be reliable. In other words, it is suspects’ subjective beliefs about the probability and utility of likely outcomes, which may or may not be accurate, that influence their decisions in combination with their idiosyncratic discounting of future outcomes. When individuals’ perceptions are inaccurate, decision-making can be flawed, ultimately leading to errors and ill-advised poor choices” (p. 82). This article proposes a mathematical equation incorporating these factors and considerations to predict whether a suspect will decide to confess or deny.

Translating Research into Practice

“Suspects’ decisions are not made in a vacuum, but rather in the course of dynamic circumstances that entail social influences, learning that occurs within the interrogation, and suspects’ personal characteristics and competencies. Accordingly, the interrogation decision-making model places the suspect’s expected utility evaluations that drive the immediate choice of making a denial or a confession within a larger context. Each decision-making cycle begins with a set of prevailing conditions that includes a broad array of factors that have the potential to influence suspects’ decision-making. Pertinent factors pertain to the crime under investigation, the characteristics of the interrogator and the interrogation setting, and the suspect’s own characteristics, the latter of which include traits, experiences, competencies, knowledge, beliefs, expectations, and scripts” (p. 84).

“Many factors may influence the subjective judgments that suspects make in assessing the expected utilities of a denial and a confession. These factors may be broadly classified according to whether they are primarily associated with characteristics of the crime under investigation, characteristics of the suspect, or characteristics of the interrogation. The interrogation decision-making model provides explanations for the mechanisms that operate in suspects’ interrogation decisions, and can account for the effects of these various factors on suspects’ choices to deny or confess guilt” (p. 84).

“The proposal that crime-relevant facts should affect suspects’ decision-making is straightforward. Naturally, confessions to more serious crimes are discouraged because conviction entails more serious punishment, which is represented by a more negative utility of the distal outcomes associated with confession. As an example, suspects accused of murder will be less likely to confess because they anticipate lengthy incarceration or execution, whereas those accused of larceny will be more likely to confess because they anticipate only probation. An additional crime factor that can influence decision-making is the state of the evidence. Guilty suspects who believe that objective evidence exists indicating their guilt will view conviction as highly probable for both a denial and a confession. By contrast, guilty suspects who believe that no other evidence exists that will indicate their guilt should judge the likelihood of conviction to be much lower if they choose to deny than to confess” (p. 85).

“Suspects’ decision-making processes can also be influenced by a variety of personal characteristics, such as personality traits, intelligence level, preexisting beliefs and expectations, knowledge of the legal system, factual innocence or guilt, and so forth. In particular, the rate of confessions is higher among juveniles than adults, higher among those with cognitive disabilities than those without, higher among first-time offenders than recidivists, and higher among the guilty than the innocent. The interrogation decision-making model is useful for examining how such individual differences can affect suspects’ subjective judgments pertaining to the model parameters and thereby influence decision-making” (see article for details; p. 86).

“A third category of factors that can influence suspects’ subjective judgments relates to characteristics of the interrogation itself, including the physical and social environment, interpersonal influence tactics applied, and the interrogator. Interrogation techniques are particularly relevant because they can alter suspects’ decision-making by manipulating their perceptions of the probabilities and utilities of the outcomes associated with denials and confessions. By applying the model, it is possible to analyze how specific interrogation tactics can impact the parameters that affect expected utility assessments, thereby understanding how they influence suspects’ decisions to deny or to confess guilt. The influence of interrogation tactics further implies the importance of the interrogator. Indeed, it is the interrogator who chooses and implements the tactics, and whose characteristics may also affect the suspect’s subjective evaluations” (p. 87).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“The discussion to this point has primarily focused on how suspects choose to deny or confess guilt at a specific point in time during an interrogation. However, suspects may not make just a single decision during an interrogation. Instead, one can imagine a suspect making a series of decisions-at first denials, and, at last, perhaps, a confession. The interrogation decision-making model accounts for the dynamic nature of suspects’ interrogation decisions by incorporating an iterative process that can yield a chain of successive decisions. The choices and consequences of one decision-making process can shape the conditions that prevail at the start of the next cycle. These factors can then influence the decision-making parameters, including the outcomes under consideration, their corresponding probabilities and utilities, as well as the discount factor … The explicit inclusion of time in the interrogation decision-making model is critical for understanding how suspects may change their decisions within an interrogation, such as by the accumulation of interrogation effects over time” (p. 88).

“Also supporting the usefulness of expected utility in determining confession decisions is that the model explains a wide range of empirical findings regarding how the crime under investigation, suspect characteristics, situational features, interrogation techniques and interrogator behaviors can influence confession decisions via their effects on the parameters of the expected utility function. Furthermore, the model also incorporates the dynamic character of interrogations by the inclusion of recursive effects that account for temporal variability in suspects’ confession decisions stemming from a variety of causes, such as fatigue, cumulative effects of interrogation techniques, or learning from choice-consequence pairings experienced during the interrogation” (p. 90).

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Authored by Becca Cheiffetz

Becca Cheiffetz is a master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated in 2015 from Sam Houston State University with a BS in Psychology and plans to continue her studies in a Clinical/Forensic Psychology PhD program in the near future. Her professional interests include providing clinical evaluations and treatment for individuals in prison as a prison psychologist and conducting forensic assessments for defendants in criminal court.

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Eyewitness’ Ratings-Based Appraisals May Enhance Juror Evaluation of Evidence

Ratings-based evaluations in lineups may help jurors better evaluate eyewitness testimony. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2017, Vol. 41, No. 4, 375-384

Mock-Juror Evaluations of Traditional and Ratings-Based Eyewitness Identification Evidence

Authors

James D. Sauer, University of Tasmania
Matthew A. Palmer, University of Tasmania
Neil Brewer, Flinders University

Abstract

Compared to categorical identifications, culprit likelihood ratings (having the witness rate, for each lineup member, the likelihood that the individual is the culprit) provide a promising alternative for assessing a suspect’s likely guilt. Four experiments addressed two broad questions about the use of culprit likelihood ratings evidence by mock-jurors. First, are mock-jurors receptive to non-categorical forms of identification evidence? Second, does the additional information provided by ratings (relating to discrimination) affect jurors’ evaluations of the identification evidence? Experiments 1 and 1A manipulated confidence (90% vs. 50%) and discrimination (good, poor, no information) between-participants. Evaluations were influenced by confidence, but not discrimination. However, a within-participant manipulation of discrimination (Experiment 2) demonstrated that evidence of good discrimination enhanced the persuasiveness of moderate levels of confidence, while poor discrimination reduced the persuasiveness of high levels of confidence. Thus, participants can interpret ratings-based evidence, but may not intuit the discrimination information when evaluating ratings for a single identification procedure. Providing detailed instructions about interpreting ratings produced clear discrimination effects when evaluating a single identification procedure (Experiment 3). Across four experiments, we found no evidence that mock-jurors perceived non-categorical identification evidence to be less informative than categorical evidence. However, jurors will likely benefit from instruction when interpreting ratings provided by a single witness.

Keywords

eyewitness identification, confidence, ratings, juror evaluations of evidence

Summary of the Research

“Jurors perform an important task under difficult conditions: Nonexperts must often assess complex or ambiguous information to reach a decision of significant consequence. This may underlie the persuasiveness of eyewitness identification evidence for jurors. Jurors’ reliance on identification evidence might reflect their desire for an apparently clearcut indication of guilt in a setting often characterized by ambiguity. However, current identification practice confers two major limitations on identification evidence. First, eyewitness identification decisions are prone to error. Second, a categorical identification is not necessarily as informative as it may appear at face value. An identification of the suspect indicates that, of the lineup members presented, the suspect probably provided the best match to the witness’s memory of the culprit. However, it does not speak to how closely the suspect matched the witness’s memory in an absolute sense, or the extent to which the suspect was favored over the other lineup members. This information is important when assessing the diagnostic value of a suspect identification. Thus, although jurors find categorical identification evidence compelling, this relatively coarse index obscures important information relating to the witness’s recognition of the suspect” (p. 375).

“Ratings-based identification protocols avoid categorical identification responses and, instead, have witnesses rate the degree to which each lineup member matches their memory of the culprit. [The authors] examined mock-jurors’ evaluations of this non-categorical form of identification evidence, and whether mock-jurors’ evaluations of identification evidence could benefit from the additional information provided by ratings-based protocols. … results to date consistently show that, compared to standard categorical identification decisions, ratings-based approaches have provided a more sensitive approach to assessing the likely guilt of a suspect” (pp. 375-376).

“[P]rofile analyses … demonstrated that the guilt of the suspect varied almost monotonically according to the degree to which the suspect was favored over the alternative lineup members. … analyses revealed that the potential benefits of ratings-based identification evidence extend beyond improving the reliability of categorical classifications of suspect guilt. In this context, the confidence rating given to the suspect can be conceptualized as an index of recognition for the suspect (ranging from weak to strong), while ratings given to non-suspect lineup members can be conceptualized as indices of discrimination” (p. 376).

“Given (a) the limitations of categorical identification evidence, (b) the promising findings relating to the diagnostic utility of ratings-based evidence, and (c) the capacity for ratings to provide a richer source of information about the witness’s memory for the suspect, we investigated mock-jurors’ evaluations of this novel, ratings-based (cf. categorical) form of identification evidence…In each experiment we presented mock-jurors with a trial transcript containing incriminating identification evidence obtained using either a standard identification task (providing a categorical identification response and associated confidence judgment) or a rating procedure where, for each lineup member, the witness provided a rating indicating the likelihood that that person was the culprit. Thus, in ratings conditions, instead of reading that the witness identified the suspect with a particular level of confidence (e.g., 90%), jurors read that the witness provided a rating for the suspect (e.g., 90%) and for each of the other lineup members (e.g., between 0% and 10%)” (p. 377). This study utilized mostly undergraduate students in a series of experiments.

“Two key findings emerged. First, across experiments, when confidence for the suspect was high, there was no evidence that the absence of a categorical identification decision undermined the persuasiveness of the evidence against the defendant. Thus, mockjurors did not routinely dismiss noncategorical identification evidence. Second, although mock-jurors did not intuitively grasp the value of the additional information provided in the ratings-based evidence conditions when considering evidence provided by a single witness (Experiments 1 and 1A), information relating to the witness’s ability to discriminate did affect mock-jurors’ evaluations when they were able to compare discrimination across witnesses (Experiment 2). Furthermore, when provided with instructions on interpreting patterns of ratings, mock-jurors were able to apply this information in an adaptive way when evaluating evidence provided by a single witness (Experiment 3)” (p. 382).

“[M] ock-jurors’ evaluations of identification evidence were shaped by the ratings given to other lineup members. These results indicate that, at least under some circumstances, mock-jurors were able to make sensible use of the identification ratings given to other lineup members when evaluating ratings-based identification evidence against the suspect. Specifically, these results suggest that mock-jurors valued information about not only the extent to which the suspect matched the witness’s memory of the culprit, but also the similarity of the suspect to the witness’s memory, relative to other lineup members” (pp. 380-381).

“[W]hen evaluating identification evidence from a single witness, overall, ratings given to non-suspect lineup members had little effect on mock-jurors’ verdict preferences. However, … when discrimination information was manipulated within-subjects, mock-jurors considered ratings given to other lineup members when evaluating identification evidence. Thus, the results … seem to indicate an inability to interpret, rather than unwillingness to consider, ratings for lineup fillers when evaluating identification evidence against a suspect” (p. 381).

Translating Research into Practice

“Compared to categorical identification decisions, ratings-based identification evidence provides a promising alternative method of assessing suspect guilt, and a richer source of information for triers-of-fact assessing the reliability of the identification evidence and the likely guilt of a defendant. Although more empirical work is needed to establish the effectiveness of this technique in police investigations, we believe that a richer type of identification evidence has a variety of potential benefits for the investigative process, prosecutors’ decisions to prosecute suspects, and judges’ summaries of presented identification evidence. However, jurors’ ability to process this information effectively is central to the applied utility of ratings-based identification evidence if presented in court” (p. 382).

“[F]indings may shed light on the conditions under which mock-jurors are likely to make use of information that adds nuance to evaluations of identification evidence. First, mock-jurors may be more likely to consider such information if that information pertains to the witness’s ability to discriminate between memory outputs that are more or less likely to be correct in the present context … Second, and related to the above point, mock-jurors may lack the cognitive framework required to readily intuit the implications of such information for the reliability of the witness’s memory in a given context. It may be necessary to provide instruction to help mock-jurors interpret and apply pertinent information” (p. 382).

“In summary, although our results suggest that mock-jurors did not readily intuit the value of the discrimination information provided for individual witnesses, they also demonstrate that mockjurors did not immediately dismiss noncategorical identification evidence as uninformative. More importantly, the results show that following instruction mock-jurors applied this additional information sensibly. Given that mock-jurors often experience problems assessing the reliability of identification evidence, we take participants’ responses to the relatively minimalistic instructions used in these experiments as a sign of mock-jurors’ willingness and ability to consider the information provided, and the potential applied utility of ratings-based identification evidence” (p. 383).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Although the additional information provided by ratings-based identification evidence – relating to the relationship between memory quality, discrimination, and the ratings given to a target versus fillers in a lineup – may be readily understood by memory researchers, this may not be true for lay-people. Given the problematic views of memory commonly espoused by jury-eligible samples and decision-makers in the criminal justice system, it may be unrealistic to expect jurors to intuitively recognize the value of the additional information provided by ratings-based evidence (i.e., relating to the witness’s ability to discriminate between previous seen and unseen lineup members). Lay-people may simply lack the cognitive framework necessary to interpret this information. Thus, jurors may be insensitive to the additional information provided by ratings given to fillers in the lineup” (p. 376).

“Mock-jurors found the incriminating testimony more persuasive when the witness expressed high (cf. low) confidence, unless cross-examination revealed that the witness made an error regarding one detail of their testimony … If the witness made an error regarding this detail, confident witnesses were deemed less credible than unconfident ones. These results suggest that, under some circumstances, jurors might be sensitive to information that relates to a witness’s ability to discriminate between correct and incorrect responses” (p. 377).

“[I]t is interesting to note that in the moderate confidence condition, mock-jurors tended to favor ‘not guilty’ verdicts in the standard identification and poor discrimination conditions but ‘guilty’ verdicts in the good discrimination condition. Thus, even when suspect ratings were relatively low (i.e., 50%), jurors still tended to favor ‘guilty’ (cf. ‘not guilty’) verdicts provided the witness demonstrated the ability to discriminate between lineup members” (p. 381).

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored by Eliza Kopelman

Eliza Kopelman is a first year master’s student in the Forensic Psychology program at John Jay College. She graduated in 2015 with her B.A. in psychology and English from Brandeis University, and then went on to work as a community residence counselor at McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA before coming back to school. Eliza’s research experience is on levels of psychopathy in sex offenders, and her professional interests include crime scene analysis and violent risk assessment.

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Finding a Balance Between Simple and Complex is Key for Jury Instructions

Efforts to make instructions simpler for jurors require a careful balance between decreasing conceptual complexity while still providing enough information to convey the point and ensure juror attention. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in Law and Human Behavior. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | Law and Human Behavior | 2017, Vol. 41, No. 3, 284-304

Deconstructing the Simplification of Jury Instructions: How Simplifying the Features of Complexity Affects Jurors’ Application of Instructions

Authors

Chantelle M. Baguley, The University of Queensland
Blake M. McKimmie, The University of Queensland
Barbara M. Masser, The University of Queensland

Abstract

Research consistently shows that techniques currently used to simplify jury instructions do not always improve mock jurors’ comprehension. If improvements are observed, these are limited and overall comprehension remains low. It is unclear, however, why this occurs. It is possible that current simplification techniques do not effectively simplify the features of complexity, present in standardized instructions, which have the greatest effect on jurors’ comprehension. It is not yet known, however, how much each feature of complexity individually affects jurors’ comprehension. To investigate this, the authors used existing data from published empirical studies to examine how simplifying each feature of complexity affects mock jurors’ application of instructions, as jurors can only apply instructions to the extent they understand them. The results suggest that reducing the conceptual complexity and proportion of supplementary information was associated with increased application of the instructions; however, reducing both the linguistic complexity and amount of information, and providing the instructions in a written format was not. In addition, results showed an unexpected adverse effect of simplification- reducing the amount of information was associated with an increase in the punitiveness of mock jurors’ verdicts, independently of the instruction content. Together, these results suggest a need to make jury instructions comprehensible, highlight the key principles in the decision-process, and identify a way to eliminate the negative effect of reducing the amount of information. Addressing these needs is essential for developing a simplification technique that maximizes jurors’ comprehension and application of instructions, while minimizing the previously overlooked negative effects of simplification.

Keywords

Jury instructions, judicial directions, simplification, comprehension, application

Summary of the Research

“Jury instructions assist juries to decide legally correct verdicts because they outline the process juries should follow to evaluate the evidence and decide their verdict. Specifically, they outline the general court procedures, the relevant law that should be considered and the irrelevant evidence that should not be considered. As such, instructions should reduce the likelihood that juries rely on irrelevant information or biases (“extra-legal information”) to decide their verdicts” (p. 284).

“Empirical research consistently shows that jurors have difficulty comprehending the key principles outlined in standardized instructions, including the legal concepts and the procedural rules that underlie the decision process. In fact, mock jurors typically only understand 50% to 70% of instructions. Although this variation in comprehension is partly due to the type of comprehension test employed (paraphrase or multiple-choice), the general conclusion about mock jurors’ comprehension is that they do not understand standardized instructions. This is problematic because, if jurors cannot understand the instructions, they will rely on factors other than the instructions to decide their verdict” (p. 285).

“To date, four simplification techniques have been used-psycholinguistic simplification, providing factual examples of legal concepts, and providing either a written copy of the instructions or a decision-aid with and/or after the oral instructions. These techniques simplify some of the five primary features of complexity in standardized instructions that make the instructions difficult to understand; linguistic complexity, conceptual complexity, amount of information, proportion of supplementary information and presentation format” (p. 285).

“Despite the vastly different simplification techniques evaluated, the same three conclusions can be drawn about each technique. First, simplifying instructions sometimes improves comprehension, but not always. Second, if improvements are observed, they are often limited. Third, overall comprehension remains low with simplified instructions. Together, these conclusions suggest that we do not yet have a simplification technique that effectively improves and maximizes jurors’ comprehension” (p. 286).

“It is not currently known, however, how much each feature of complexity individually affects jurors’ comprehension, for two reasons. First, most techniques simultaneously simplify multiple features of complexity. For instance, a decision-aid not only reduces the proportion of supplementary information and the total amount of information, it also provides the instructions in a written format. This makes it difficult to know which feature of complexity, when simplified, actually improves comprehension. Second, some techniques simultaneously simplify some features of complexity while inadvertently increasing the complexity of other features. For example, providing factual examples of legal concepts reduces the conceptual complexity, but also increases the amount of information. This increase in the amount of information may then negate the effect of reducing the conceptual complexity. It is therefore important to disentangle the features of complexity present in standardized instructions, and investigate how simplifying each feature of complexity individually affects jurors’ comprehension” (p. 286).

“Jurors can be said to apply the instructions when they use their understanding of the instructions to first, decide the issues in the trial, and second, decide a verdict. In this way, simplification should increase the extent to which jurors decide legally correct verdicts-verdicts that correspond to their decisions about the issues, in the way outlined in the instructions…. Simplification, however, should not directly affect the punitiveness of jurors’ verdicts, independent of the instruction content; a proposition that has consistently been supported in mock jury research” (p. 286).

“To investigate how simplifying each feature of complexity individually affects mock jurors’ application of instructions, 121 jury instructions, and their corresponding measure of verdict, were obtained from 75 published empirical studies. Each instruction was coded for each feature of complexity. The dominant focus of the instruction content was also coded. If simplification improves comprehension, and this in turn, increases mock jurors’ application of the instructions, then mock jurors’ verdicts should be consistent with the dominant focus of the instruction content, assuming they attend to, accept, and remember the instructions” (p. 287).

“The PsycINFO database was used to search for published empirical journal articles containing jury instructions. Keywords, including jury or judicial and instruction or direction, were used to search titles and abstracts. No restriction was placed on the year of publication. We also searched the reference sections of review articles and meta-analyses examining the effect of instructions on jurors’ comprehension and verdicts” (p. 287).

“A jury instruction from a study was included if the following three conditions were met. First, the study provided a copy of the instruction. Second, the instruction described the process to evaluate the evidence and decide a verdict. Consequently, an instruction was not included if it only provided information about the consequences for a defendant postverdict or an admonition to decide a unanimous verdict for a deadlocked jury (dynamite charge). Third, a measure of verdict punitiveness (either as a percentage or mean) was provided for the instruction. An instruction was subsequently excluded if the instruction was less than 19 words, only contained one sentence, or was presented as a flow- chart, because we could not code the features of complexity (described below). An instruction was also excluded if it did not state the number of participants who provided the verdict punitiveness measure, because we could not weight the data for our analyses” (p. 287).

“The final sample included 121 independent instructions from 63 articles, 75 studies, and 12,184 participants (72.04% university students; 27.96% community members). The independent instructions included 48 substantive instructions (instructions about offenses and defenses; e.g., murder and insanity), 30 procedural instructions (instructions about general trial procedures; e.g., the standard of proof), and 43 evidentiary instructions (instructions about particular pieces of evidence; e.g., eyewitness evidence). The instructions were used in both civil (n = 23) and criminal (n = 98) trials” (p. 287).

“Each instruction was coded on five features of complexity: linguistic complexity, conceptual complexity, amount of information, proportion of supplementary information and presentation format” (p. 287).

“For the dominant focus of the instruction content to be coded as mostly on conviction, substantive instructions had to describe the factors jurors had to consider for an offense (e.g., murder) to be proved, evidentiary instructions had to either direct jurors to act in a way that favored the plaintiff/prosecution (e.g., cannot nullify the law in a murder trial when they sympathize with the defendant) or tell jurors to be cautious when evaluating the defense’s evidence (e.g., eyewitness for defense), and procedural instructions had to define a lower standard of proof (e.g., preponderance of evidence) to prove an offense. For the dominant focus of the instruction content to be coded as mostly on acquittal, substantive instructions had to describe the factors jurors had to consider for a defense (e.g., insanity) to be proved, evidentiary instructions had to either direct jurors to act in a way that favored the defense (e.g., can nullify the law in a murder trial when they sympathize with the defendant) or tell jurors to be cautious when evaluating the plaintiff’s/prosecution’s evidence (e.g., eyewitness for plaintiff/prosecution), and procedural instructions had to define a higher standard of proof (e.g., reasonable doubt) to prove an offense” (p. 294).

“Our results suggest that reducing the conceptual complexity, but not the linguistic complexity, and reducing the proportion of supplementary information, is associated with increased application of the instructions because mock jurors’ verdicts were consistent with the dominant focus of the instruction content for lower levels of conceptual complexity and lower proportions of supplementary information, but not for higher levels of conceptual complexity and higher proportions of supplementary information. The fact that mock jurors did not rely on the instructions to decide their verdict when the instructions were more complex is not surprising, as research shows that mock jurors will be persuaded by factors other than the content of a message, when the message is complex. Given jurors can only apply instructions to the extent they comprehend them and that application implies comprehension, these findings suggest that reducing the conceptual complexity and proportion of supplementary information, is associated with improved comprehension, but reducing the linguistic complexity is not” (p. 296).

Translating Research into Practice

“Consistent with the beliefs of legal practitioners and judges, this study provides strong evidence that it is the complexity of legal concepts, rather than the complexity of language, that is the primary cause of difficulties with comprehension. This may explain why psycholinguistic simplification only results in small, if any, improvements in comprehension, and why overall comprehension with this form of simplification remains low. Despite the difficulty of doing so, this study strongly suggests a need to find a way to effectively simplify legal concepts” (p. 296).

“Our results also provide strong support for using decision-aids in trials. Although not widely used in courts to date, reducing the proportion of supplementary information surrounding the key principles appears to have clear benefits for jurors’ comprehension and application of the instructions. It may be the presence of supplementary information that explains why comprehension remains low for other simplification techniques, including psycholinguistic simplification, providing factual examples of legal concepts and providing a written copy of the instructions” (p. 296).

“The results of our analysis have important implications for developing a simplification technique that effectively improves and maximizes jurors’ comprehension, and subsequent application of instructions. First, our results suggest the need to make the instructions comprehensible, through reducing the conceptual complexity, and to highlight the key principles in the decision- process, through reducing the proportion of supplementary information surrounding the key principles. This may involve providing case-specific facts to convey the legal concepts in a framework similar to decision-aids. Second, our results emphasize the need to ensure jurors thoroughly read written instructions if these are provided. This may involve providing jurors with a decision-aid, which they are required to use to decide their verdict. This could be similar to a Special Verdict Form, where jurors have to provide the judge with written responses about their decisions for each issue in the trial. Finally, our results suggest that it is necessary to identify a way to eliminate the negative effects of reducing the amount of information on the punitiveness of jurors’ verdicts. Using Special Verdict Forms may also be useful in this regard-they would ensure jurors decide their verdicts using the content of the instructions, rather than their subjective experiences” (p. 299).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Although it is not yet possible to definitively conclude that reducing the amount of information is not associated with improved comprehension and increased application of the instructions, examining the effect of reducing the amount of information in this study was important. It not only suggests that this effect may be contingent on the amount of information provided, it also revealed an unintentional, and previously overlooked, negative effect of simplification-reducing the amount of information is associated with increased verdict punitiveness, independently of the dominant focus of the instruction content. One possible explanation for this may involve jurors’ subjective experiences of the instructions; jurors may feel less doubt and more confidence about deciding a verdict when they have to consider less information” (p. 298).

“While our differential reading explanation seems plausible, future research should investigate whether written instructions, provided alone, with or after oral instructions, improve jurors’ comprehension and application of the instructions when jurors thoroughly read them. Ensuring jurors attend to the instructions in this way will allow us to demonstrate the true value of providing jurors with the opportunity to read the instructions at their own pace, consistent with their rate of learning. This is important, given the growing trend for law reform commissions to recommend providing jurors with written instructions as a way of improving comprehension” (p. 299).

“Our results also have important implications for designing research on jurors’ comprehension and application of instructions in the future. This research should incorporate tests of jurors’ attention, acceptance, and memory of instructions, in addition to tests of their comprehension and application of instructions. It is only through examining these additional cognitive processes that we can further advance our current knowledge about why current simplification techniques have had limited success in improving and maximizing jurors’ comprehension and application of instructions” (p. 299).

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Authored by Casey Buonocore

Casey Buonocore is currently a student in John Jay’s BA/MA Program in Forensic Psychology. Her research interests include serious mental illness, risk assessments, and competency evaluations. After earning her Master’s, she plans to pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

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The relationship between Intermittent Explosive Disorder and offending behavior

Intermittent Explosive Disorder is significantly associated with a wide array of violent offending. That is the bottom line of a recently published article in International Journal of Forensic Mental. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health 2017, Vol. 16, No. 4, 293–303

Criminally Explosive: Intermittent Explosive Disorder, Criminal Careers, and Psychopathology among Federal Correctional Clients

Authors

Matt DeLisi, Department of Sociology, Iowa State University
Michael Elbert, United States Probation, Iowa
Daniel Caropreso, United States Probation, Iowa
Katherine Tahja, United States Probation, Iowa
Timothy Heinrichs, United States Probation, Iowa
Alan Drury, United States Probation, Iowa

Abstract

‘Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) is a relatively rare psychiatric condition characterized by aggression, explosive outbursts towards people and property, and very poorly regulated emotional and behavioral control, but has rarely been studied in a criminal justice context. Drawing on data from 863 federal correctional clients from a supervised release population in the Midwestern United States, the current study examined the lifetime prevalence and correlates of IED and its associations with criminal careers. The lifetime prevalence of IED was 2.6% with another 1% of clients exhibiting symptoms of the disorder. Poisson and negative binomial regression models have shown that IED was significantly associated with arrests for murder, attempted murder, interference with police, aggravated assault, simple assault, and domestic assault despite controls for serious behavioral disorders, age of first arrest, and demographics. Clients with IED were also dramatically more likely to be habitual offenders and accumulate chronic arrests for assault-related crimes. These offenders pose considerable risk to staff safety and should be supervised with the highest level of supervision.’

Keywords

Intermittent Explosive Disorder, crime, psychopathology, criminal careers, violence

Summary of the Research

“Intermittent Explosive Disorder (IED) has existed in various incarnations throughout psychiatric history. Since the initial Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders published in 1952, the condition has been referred to as “passive-aggressive personality, aggressive type,” “explosive personality,” “isolated explosive disorder,” and “intermittent explosive disorder.” Despite variations in the actual name of the disorder, Intermittent Explosive Disorder has always been characterized by features relating to aggression, explosive outbursts towards people and property, and very poorly regulated emotional and behavioral control and is commonly comorbid with other psychiatric conditions” (p.293)

“By its very definition, IED is an important clinical disorder with explicit linkages to criminal offending; however, the construct has been largely overlooked by researchers. The current study seeks to examine the prevalence and correlates of IED in a population of federal correctional clients in the United States and examine its association with diverse forms of serious and pathological forms of criminal offending.” (p.295)

“The current study was based on archival data from the total population of 865 active clients in a federal probation juris- diction in the Midwestern United States (two clients had incomplete data thus the analytical sample is 863). All clients were on supervised release after a term of supervision in the Bureau of Prisons. The sample was 84% male and 16% female. The preponderance (79.4%) of clients were white, 20.6% were African American. 92% were non-Hispanic and 8% are Hispanic and the mean age was 44 years. The most prevalent conviction offenses were distribution of methamphetamine (35%), felon in possession of firearm (13%), bank fraud, money laundering, and/or identity theft (13%), distribution of cocaine base (crack) (12%), possession or manufacturing of child pornography (6.5%), distribution of marijuana (6%), use of firearm during a drug trafficking offense (4.5%), and distribution of cocaine (3.6%).” (p.295)

“Data collection occurred via two procedures. First, all data in the client’s Probation/Pretrial Services Automated Case Tracking System (PACTS) file were electronically extracted and converted to an Excel spreadsheet. PACTS is a case management platform used in all 94 federal districts to track federal defendants and offenders. This electronic extraction contained information on 110 variables including demographics, case information, conditions, federal post-conviction risk assessment (PCRA) and assorted risks, criminal history indices, and other documents relevant to the client’s social and criminal history.” (p.295)

“Second, information on 108 additional variables was manually collected by the senior author. These variables were extracted from presentence reports (PSR), offender dossiers from the Bureau of Prisons, local, state, and national criminal histories, confidential psychological and psychiatric reports, treatment reports, and other relevant documents located in PACTS.” (p.295)

“Intermittent Explosive Disorder: IED was measured based on secondary diagnostic information from psychological reports in the offender’s file and the client’s presentence reports where there was evidence that the offender exhibited symptoms of the disorder or had received a formal lifetime diagnosis. IED was coded on a 3-point scale with no evidence/ no symptoms D 0, some evidence/symptoms of IED but not enough for a formal diagnosis D 1, and definite evidence evidenced by a formal diagnosis D 2. The lifetime prevalence of IED (x D .06, SD D .33) was 3.6% (n D 31) with nine clients displaying lifetime symptoms of IED (1%), and 22 clients having a formal lifetime diagnosis (2.6%). Most—96.4%—clients had no evidence of IED in their psychiatric history.” (p.295)

“Even when controlling for serious behavioral disorders, age of arrest onset, and demographic characteristics, IED was significantly associated with a mélange of violent crime and chronic/sustained involvement in total arrest charges and assault-oriented charges. In other words, the DSM-5 criteria are consistent with the manifest severe criminal acts among federal correctional clients.” (p.298)
“IED exerts unique variance for serious crimes above and beyond the associations between other serious behavioral disorders, arrest onset, and demographic characteristics. IED is not just part and parcel of CD, ADHD, or ASPD, but instead captures offenders whose arrest records are disproportionately comprised of offenses suggesting a bellicose, reactive, unstable behavioral repertoire. For instance, the mean assault-related charges among clients who displayed no evidence of IED were 1.5 charges. Among those with symptoms of IED, the mean assault-related charges were 8.8 and among those with an IED diagnoses the mean was 12.7. Put another way, clients with the disorder had nearly 8.5 times more arrest charges on average for assault-related crimes than clients without the disorder” (p.299).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Given the association between the disorder and various forms of assault and physical noncompliance with police (e.g., the interference with police charge), correctional staff must be vigilant when interacting with them. A practical approach to enhancing the safety of officers who supervise defendants and offenders with IED diagnosis is to require at least two officers partner on all field contacts. Another advisable course is to ensure the district’s mental health specialist, supervisor and contract or non-contract mental health treatment professional are consulted regularly regarding the status and needs of the case. Given the heightened propensity for violence to be perpetrated by offenders and defendants with IED, it is imperative that parole and probation systems consider this condition as an important marker for future violence and develop individual case plans accordingly.”(p.299)

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored by Charlie McNess

Charlie McNess is currently the Clinical Coordinator of EAC Brooklyn CRAN, she received her Master’s degree in General Psychology from New York University in 2016. Her research interests include criminal justice diversion.

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High Base Rate of Feigning Detected Among Defendants Committed for Competency Restoration

This study examined the utility of an admission screening process to explore whether screening processes can be useful in identifying individuals who have been deemed incompetent to stand trial and may need a comprehensive assessment of feigning. These data confirm that the assessment of response style is a critical component of a forensic evaluation, either at the pretrial stage or upon a defendant’s admission to a facility for competency restoration. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2017, Vol. 16, No. 4, p. 281-292

The Utility of an Admission Screening Procedure for Patients Committed to a State Hospital as Incompetent to Stand Trial

Authors

Barbara E. McDermott, UC Davis
William J. Newman, St. Louis University
Jonathan Meyer, Department of State Hospitals, Sacramento, California
Charles L. Scott, UC Davis
Katherine Warburton, Department of State Hospitals, Sacramento, California

Abstract

Competence to stand trial is the most requested forensic evaluation in the United States, with a minimum of 60,000 assessments conducted per year. In the U.S., once found incompetent, restoration typically is provided by the mental health system, generally via an inpatient admission. There has been a nationwide surge in referrals for competence to stand trial evaluations, with a corresponding increase in defendants court-ordered for restoration. When jurisdictions require inpatient treatment for this restoration process, defendants often wait in jail for a hospital bed. As more states face litigation because of these waiting times, strategies to improve the efficiency of systems charged with restoration is imperative. Our study examined the utility of an admission screening process to achieve this goal. Eight hundred and thirty seven patients were admitted as incompetent to stand trial during the study period, 486 of whom had adequate data for analysis. Our results indicated that this screening process was useful in identifying individuals who may need a comprehensive assessment of feigning. Our data confirm that the assessment of response style is a critical component of a forensic evaluation. If this assessment is not performed pretrial, there is benefit to conducting the assessment on admission for restoration.

Keywords

Malingering, competence to stand trial, competence restoration, admission screening

Summary of the Research

“Feigning of psychiatric symptoms and/or cognitive deficits in order to be found IST is not uncommon…Because of the elevated prevalence rates in criminal forensic evaluations, most authors agree that the assessment of feigning should be a routine part of CST evaluations…This study of archival clinical data provides descriptions of patients admitted as incompetent to stand trial. We also examined if the screening itself or the programmatic changes implemented as a consequence of this screening, specifically performing more extensive evaluations of patients identified as possibly feigning, impacted length of stay for these patients, a proxy for improved efficiency” (p.282-284).

“All IST patients were admitted directly from the referring county jails…Once interviewed and administered the assessment tools, clinicians were required to make judgments about the patients’ overall competence and on both prongs of Dusky (understanding of criminal proceedings and ability to assist in their own defense), potential for feigning of psychiatric symptoms or cognitive/memory deficits, and presence of possible cognitive deficits. These judgments were based on their interview combined with results from the structured assessments… For the majority of the evaluations, the Structured Interview of Reported Symptoms (SIRS) was used to provide a more thorough assessment of response style. On occasion, the Test of Memory Malingering (TOMM) was employed if there was an indication that feigning was primarily of memory deficits” (p. 285-286).

“The primary purpose these data were collected was to provide descriptions to the administration on the base rate of feigning on admission. Secondary questions included (1) did the screening procedure, by itself, impact length of stay and (2) did conducting comprehensive evaluations on patients suspected of feigning decrease length of stay and/or improve the identification of malingering… For the group on whom a more extensive evaluation was conducted, the risk assessment score was significantly higher, scores on the competence screening were significantly lower, and length of stay was significantly shorter. For patients who were more extensively evaluated following the admission screening, 20 of the 32 (93.75%) were confirmed as feigning psychiatric symptoms or cognitive deficits” (p.286-287).

“In general, the two groups identified on the admission screening as possibly feigning (one group confirmed as feigning) scored similarly on the assessments with two exceptions: the competence assessment and the risk assessment. The competence assessment on admission evidenced much lower scores in the patients who were confirmed as feigning, whereas this score did not differ between patients believed to be feigning on admission but not confirmed and patients not believed to be feigning. The risk assessment differed between all three groups. The LOS was significantly shorter in the group confirmed as feigning; the group believed to be feigning but not confirmed did not differ in LOS from the group not believed to be feigning on admission…the label of malingering was significantly more likely to appear in the diagnosis section of the report if the patient was confirmed as feigning with structured assessments. These individuals were also significantly less likely to receive a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder” (p.287-288).

“The rate of suspected feigning in our sample is comparable to rates reported in pretrial evaluations. While the exact explanation for this is unclear, it is likely these rates of feigning post-incompetency finding is due to poor quality of pretrial forensic evaluations…Our data suggest that the assessment of feigning is a critical component of a competence to stand trial evaluation…Our data indicate that even if court evaluators do not consider response style, entities charged with restoration should screen for this on admission as one method for improving system efficiency.” (p.289).

Translating Research into Practice

“These results suggest that an extremely low score on a competence assessment instrument should raise concerns for feigning…employing a structured assessment of feigned lack of knowledge of the criminal justice system, such as the Inventory of Legal Knowledge, in addition to assessments of feigned symptoms when conducting competence to stand trial evaluations…Our data suggest that a medico-legal context by itself is sufficient to trigger a consideration of malingering. In forensic evaluations, an external incentive always exists; with feigning rates reported at 21% or higher in competence valuations, consideration of response styles in these valuations should be the standard of practice. Further, if response style is not assessed in the court ordered evaluation, it should always be evaluated on entrance to a competence restoration treatment program. Our data indicate that a screening procedure is useful in identifying patients who warrant a more comprehensive assessment” (p.289-290).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“It is noteworthy that malingering appears more frequently in the diagnostic section of the court report when structured assessments were administered. This is not surprising for two reasons. One is that it is much easier to testify that a defendant is malingering if a structured assessment is available to provide empirical support for that opinion. In fact, increasingly forensic scholars are recommending structured assessments as one component in determining if an individual is feigning symptoms…Second, and perhaps more importantly, for patients who received a more extensive evaluation of response style, the court reports were written by the forensic evaluator…all evaluators had received extensive forensic training or were at the time of their evaluations completing a fellowship in forensic psychiatry. Evidence suggests that training improves the quality and accuracy of evaluations and our data support this conclusion” (p.289).

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As always, please join the discussion below if you have thoughts or comments to add!

Authored by Amber Lin

Amber Lin is a volunteer in Dr. Zapf’s research lab at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She graduated from New York University in 2013 with a B.A. (honors) and hopes to obtain her PhD in forensic clinical psychology. Her research interests include forensic assessment, competency to stand trial, and the refinement of instruments used to assess the psychological states of criminal defendants.

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Dr. Eve Brank presents her Presidential Address at the American Psychology-Law Society meeting (video)

Dr. Eve Brank, President of the American Psychology-Law Society, presents her address at the Annual Meeting of the American Psychology-Law Society in Memphis (March, 2018). In her address, Dr. Brank speaks about the importance of Expanding, Communicating, and Developing the field: Looking Internally and Externally to meet our Challenges.

About Dr. Eve Brank

Dr. Brank received her J.D. (2000) and Ph.D (2001) from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the Law-Psychology Program. She joined the UNL faculty in 2008 and is part of the law/psychology and social programs. Prior to joining the Nebraska faculty, Dr. Brank was on the faculty in the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at the University of Florida. Her research primarily focuses on the way the law intervenes (and sometimes interferes) in family and personal decision making. In particular, she studies the public support, implementation, and effectiveness of parental responsibility laws within the context of the juvenile justice system and the legal requirements of elder care giving. Dr. Brank also studies issues related to decision making in the context of government searches and plea negotiations.

American Psychology-Law Society Presidential Address

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MMPI-2-RF comparison groups for defendants evaluated for Competency to Stand Trial and Criminal Responsibility

The MMPI-2-RF can be useful in characterizing defendants evaluated for Competency to Stand Trial and Criminal Responsibility, which will allow forensic examiners to have a better sense of what to expect in terms of MMPI-2-RF results from individuals undergoing such evaluations. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | The International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2017, Vol. 16, No. 4, 304-312

Using the MMPI-2-RF to Characterize Defendants Evaluated for Competency to Stand Trial and Criminal Responsibility

Authors

Martin Sellbom, Department of Psychology, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

Abstract

This study sought to provide more specific comparison groups for examiners using the MMPI-2-RF in criminal forensic evaluations, as well as to expand upon the existing literature by comparing defendants evaluated for Competency to Stand Trial (CST) and Criminal Responsibility (CR) on psychological functioning. In a large pre-trial criminal defendant sample (n D 486), significant differences were observed between defendants evaluated for CST and those evaluated for CR on scales reflecting emotional and externalizing dysfunction, but not thought dysfunction. Moreover, those opined competent to stand trial by forensic examiners scored lower than those opined incompetent on measures of psychoticism/paranoia, whereas those opined not criminally responsible were less likely to exhibit externalizing psychopathology relative to those opined to be criminally responsible. Implications for forensic psychology practice are discussed.

Keywords

MMPI-2-RF, personality assessment, criminal responsibility, competency to stand trial

Summary of the Research

“Competency to Stand Trial (CST) and Criminal Responsibility (CR) are among the most frequent psycho-legal questions addressed in criminal proceedings in the United States. For instance, CST evaluations comprise approximately 20–30% of all criminal forensic evaluations. Forensic examiners frequently rely on psychological testing to elaborate on the psychological status of defendants undergoing such evaluations. The most recent available surveys on forensic test usage indicated that the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory-2 (MMPI-2) was the most frequently used test instrument in forensic evaluations. The most recent version of this test, the MMPI-2 Restructured Form, has not yet been studied with respect to CST and CR evaluations. Furthering this knowledge base is critical in light of its emergent use in clinical and forensic practice” (p. 305).

“Although normative data based on large nationally representative samples are key to the interpretation of psychological test scores generally, the presence of comparison groups specific to the evaluation at hand are important. The MMPI-2-RF has adopted comparison groups from a variety of settings, including various forensic settings. In particular, the test publisher has made a pre-trial criminal comparison group available that forensic examiners can use for targeted comparisons to determine whether a defendant’s scores are typical of or deviate meaningfully from scores of others who undergo these evaluations. However, the current criminal pre-trial group available for the MMPI-2-RF consists of a heterogeneous collection of defendants (e.g., those evaluated for drug intervention in lieu of conviction in addition to CST and CR). Therefore, a more specific comparison group for use with the most common pre-trial forensic evaluations (i.e., CST and CR) would be very useful to forensic examiners who employ the MMPI-2-RF in their testing arsenals” (p. 305).

“The current study had two broad aims. The primary goal was to determine specific mean MMPI-2-RF profiles for CST and CR groups, respectively, to provide more homogeneous comparison groups for examiners using the MMPI-2-RF in criminal forensic evaluations. As stated earlier, such groups can be useful in improving MMPI-2-RF interpretations via comparison data. We conducted analysis to determine whether defendants undergoing such evaluations would be different from one another, as such findings would warrant separate comparison groups. On the other hand, if the differences were minimal, combined CST/CR comparison groups could be considered. Second, and more broadly, the study aimed to extend the literature on the psychological status of defendants evaluated for CST and CR by directly comparing these groups using an omnibus personality inventory on over-reporting response styles, clinical symptoms and maladaptive personality traits that go beyond diagnosis” (p. 305).

“Findings indicate that the MMPI-2-RF can be useful in characterizing defendants evaluated for CST and CR, which will allow forensic examiners to have a better sense of what to expect in terms of MMPI-2-RF results from individuals undergoing such evaluations. Those evaluated for CR exhibited higher rates of emotional and behavioral dysfunction relative to those evaluated for CST only; however, the groups are comparable with respect to thought dysfunction. Not surprisingly in light of the extant literature, those opined competent or criminally responsible exhibited higher levels of both over-reporting of psychopathology and externalizing disorder symptoms. Overall, these findings provide forensic examiners with access to more specific comparison groups (i.e., CST and/or CR) as they use the MMPI-2-RF in these types of evaluations” (p. 307-309).

“The MMPI-2-RF Validity scales also revealed an interesting pattern of findings that are consistent with intuitive expectations. Individuals referred for CR evaluations (arguably higher stakes than CST) scored higher on Validity scales indicative of over-reporting and had higher rates of individuals meeting threshold for over-reporting compared to those for CST-only, suggesting that individuals undergoing such evaluations might have a greater incentive to present themselves in a more exaggerated manner. These findings are not unexpected given that the rates of malingering likely increase as the external incentives for such behavior increase. Furthermore, those defendants opined by the forensic examiners to meet the criteria for incompetence to stand trial or NCR scored significantly lower on scales indicative of over-reporting and exhibited lower rates of outright over-reporting (which would be potential evidence for malingering). These findings also make intuitive sense, as such individuals who over-report would be less likely to be opined to meet such psycho-legal standards. Interestingly, however, some individuals opined incompetent to stand trial (11.9%) presented with over-reporting profiles (unlike NCR for whom the rate was 0%), indicating that forensic examiners might be more lenient in opining incompetence relative to NCR in light of potential feigning” (p. 311).

Translating Research into Practice

“Overall, the current findings increment the already consistent previous literature focusing on specific mental health disorders that the same pattern of findings emerge when using dimensional symptom measures as opposed to categorical diagnoses. This increment is important in light of the ever intense discussion of the clinical utility of dimensional psychopathology constructs, including in forensic psychology practice, as symptom measures very much conform to clinical expectations and also allow for the documentation of severity level unlike diagnostic categories. Indeed, dimensional symptom measures are better suited to forensic psychology decision-making, as different decisions can be better linked to different severity thresholds in light of the psycho-legal question posed” (p. 311).

“The current findings have explicit implications for forensic examiners who use the MMPI-2-RF in CST and CR evaluations. The MMPI-2-RF scales are likely to yield scores that are consistent with extant research on CST and CR defendant characteristics. As such, using these findings will allow forensic examiners to compare the MMPI-2-RF scores of those individuals whom they evaluate to typical CST and CR defendants (including those referred to both types of evaluations). Such comparisons will allow the clinician to determine the degree to which scores are typical or atypical. For instance, the individual might be engaging in greater levels of over- or underreporting than would be expected in this context, or might be exhibiting greater levels of persecutory ideation but lower levels of externalizing proclivities than typical of this setting. This information could be beneficial for the forensic examiner conducting CST or CR evaluation as such individuals might present in a way more reflective of those with serious mental health problems qualifying for incomptency or NCR. Of course, it is also important that forensic examiners consider that these profiles will not be indicative of individuals who qualify for competency vs. incompetency to stand trial or CR vs. NCR, as they only reflect mean-level distributions. Furthermore, these are to be viewed solely as comparison groups and not actual normative data for forensic settings, which is in line with current recommended practice for MMPI-2-RF interpretation” (p. 311).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“First, although the sample sizes are relatively large for this type of study, they are derived from only one forensic clinic in the Midwestern part of the U.S. The sample is also somewhat old, and thus, replication in more recent samples is necessary, though it is worth noting that empirical data indicate that MMPI-2-RF scale scores have not changed meaningfully since the 1980s. Furthermore, statistical power was clearly a concern when divided into specific evaluation types, and therefore an a priori alpha level of .05 was used. This decision has the potential for generating a substantial number of Type I errors, but was made in the balance of identifying potentially novel findings with observed meaningful effects. The sample size for those opined NCR, in particular, was too small for meaningful statistical power; the findings are nonetheless presented in light of the novelty of these types of data. Information about CR vs. NCR defendants remains scarce, and to this author’s knowledge, no previous study has used an objective, multiscale symptom inventory to characterize such defendants. Nevertheless, it will therefore be important for future research to replicate these findings in using other samples. Another avenue for future inquiry would be to incorporate potential outcome data relevant to CR and CST evaluations for systematic examination of predictive validity of MMPI-2-RF scale scores obtained in these evaluations” (p. 311-312).

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Authored by Amanda Beltrani

Amanda Beltrani is a current graduate student in the Forensic Psychology Masters program at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. Her professional interests include forensic assessments, specifically, criminal matter evaluations. Amanda plans to continue her studies in a doctoral program after completion of her Masters degree.

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Support for the Admissibility of Forensic Neuropsychological Evidence

Clinical Neuropsychology

This study on the state of the practice in forensic neuropsychological assessment provides key insight into accepted and well-validated instruments commonly used in forensic assessment. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in The Clinical Neuropsychologist. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | The Clinical Neuropsychologist | 2017, Online First Publication

Toward generally accepted forensic assessment practices among clinical neuropsychologists: a survey of professional practice and common test use

Authors

Casey LaDuke NYU-Langone Medical Center, Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, New York, NY, USA; Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehavioral Sciences, University of Virginia Health System, Charlottesville, VA, USA
William Barr NYU-Langone Medical Center, Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, New York, NY, USA
Donald L. Brodale Department of Sociology, Brooklyn College of The City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, USA
Laura A. Rabin Department of Psychology, Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, Brooklyn, NY, USA

Abstract

Objective: This study investigated professional practice and common test use among clinical neuropsychologists engaging in forensic assessment.
Method: Doctorate-level psychologists active in the practice of neuropsychology and on the INS and NAN membership listings (n = 502) were surveyed about their demographics, professional practice, and common test use. Participants who reported engaging in forensic practice (n = 255) were further surveyed about their forensic practice.
Results: Forensic participants were more likely to be male and Caucasian, and reported higher ages, more years of professional experience, and a higher prevalence of board certification. While characteristics of their professional and forensic practice varied, forensic participants reported spending most of their professional time conducting neuropsychological assessments with adult clients in a private or group practice setting, focusing on civil referrals and civil legal questions involving older adult issues, developmental issues, head injury, and psychiatric issues. Common test use across neuropsychological assessment domains is presented for board-certified forensic participants (n = 77). An examination of these results reveals that the current pattern of test use is similar to the results of a more general survey of neuropsychological test use.
Conclusions: The findings provide insight into the practice of forensic neuropsychological assessment, and further establish the admissibility of neuropsychological evidence in the United States legal system. Results will be useful for clinical neuropsychologists, field leaders, and legal professionals hoping to gain insight into the role of clinical neuropsychology in civil and criminal legal decision-making.

Keywords

neuropsychological assessment; forensic assessment; test use; practice; admissibility

Summary of the Research

“Clinical neuropsychologists are psychological practitioners with specialized training and experience in the science of brain-behavior relationships… Prior survey research and professional commentaries highlight forensic neuropsychology as a rapidly developing subspecialty among clinical neuropsychologists. By definition, forensic neuropsychology is the application of neuropsychology to legal issues that arise in civil and criminal proceedings, and a forensic neuropsychologist is a neuropsychologist who provides opinions in a legal setting. Forensic practice is common among clinical neuropsychologists and accounts for a significant source of income.” (p. 1-2).

“Given the importance of general acceptance and the use of well-validated methods to the admissibility of expert evidence in the United States legal system (Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., 1993 [i.e. the Daubert standard]; Frye v. United States, 1923 [i.e. the Frye standard]), it is imperative to track common practices among neuropsychologists engaging in forensic assessment… The current study is a representative survey of clinical neuropsychologists engaging in forensic practice in North America, including items specific to their common test use.” (p. 2). “Participants in the current study sample therefore consisted of 502 doctorate-level psychologists active in the practice of neuropsychology and on the INS and NAN membership listings who responded whether they engaged in forensic practice” (p. 3).

“The current survey described the demographic characteristics of clinical neuropsychologists who engage in forensic practice. Compared to their non-forensic peers, forensic participants were more likely to be men. Consistent with their non-forensic peers, forensic participants were predominantly Caucasian. The reported disparities in gender and cultural identity among forensic participants are not surprising based on prior demographic data on neuropsychologists engaging in forensic practice. The current results reinforce the need to increase gender diversity in forensic neuropsychological practice specifically (particularly among board certified practitioners) and ethnic diversity in clinical neuropsychology generally, in part to ensure effective and ethical practice in forensic neuropsychological assessment.” (p. 12).

“Specific to their forensic practice, participants appeared to work with a higher proportion of civil referrals than criminal referrals, particularly among boarded forensic participants. Relatedly, civil legal questions were generally the most frequently reported forensic referral questions (i.e. personal injury, neurotoxic exposure, medical malpractice, testamentary capacity), followed by criminal legal questions (i.e. insanity, competence to stand trial or confess, and capital mitigation). These results generally support previously reported trends in forensic practice among clinical neuropsychologists… Common test use among practitioners board certified in neuropsychology and related fields was described across domains and methods relevant to contemporary neuropsychological assessment. The current results appeared broadly consistent with test use among general neuropsychologists described in prior research. This finding appears consistent with the guidance of both field experts and ethical authorities that practitioners should seek to apply the most valid and reliable assessment procedures and tests available, such that clinical practices need to change little in forensic assessment” (p. 16-17).

Translating Research into Practice

“Understanding common and well-validated practices plays a vital role in the development of forensic neuropsychology as a professional practice, and is a foundational aspect of the admissibility of neuropsychological evidence in civil and criminal legal proceedings. This study appears to be the first to investigate common test use among a representative sample of clinical neuropsychologists engaging in forensic practice. The results therefore represent an important step toward further understanding forensic assessment practices among clinical neuropsychologists, and further establishing the admissibility of neuropsychological evidence in the United States legal system.” (p. 10).

“The current findings appear to support the admissibility of neuropsychological evidence in legal decision-making. Specifically, the data highlight tests commonly used by neuropsychologists engaging in forensic assessments, which clearly speaks to the general acceptance criteria that is included in both Frye and Daubert standards and their various state and federal applications. Results also demonstrate the variety of tests used by neuropsychologists engaging in forensic assessments, which itself speaks to the core characteristic of forensic neuropsychological practice being based on a number of well-validated methods that appear to be implemented at both higher and lower frequencies. As such, the use of well-validated and lower-frequency tests in forensic neuropsychological assessments would also likely be admissible in jurisdictions applying either the Frye standard (i.e. general acceptance) or Daubert standard (i.e. general acceptance, falsifiability, peer-review, and known error rates). Overall, the current study further supports the admissibility of evidence obtained through clinical neuropsychological assessment in legal decision-making by providing data about generally accepted forensic assessment practices among clinical neuropsychologists” (p. 17).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Forensic and non-forensic participants appeared similar in their reported degrees and areas of specialization, though participants engaging in forensic practice reported more years of professional experience and a higher prevalence of board certification through a neuropsychology-related board. Given the legal standards of admissibility and increased scrutiny required in forensic assessments, it may not be surprising if neuropsychologists engage in forensic assessments after obtaining the level of mastery and fluency that comes from years of specialized training and experience in neuropsychology. Further, given the evolving conceptualization of board certification as the standard for competence to practice clinical neuropsychology and the standards set for the admissibility of neuropsychological evidence, it may not be surprising if neuropsychologists with board certification feel more capable or confident to engage in forensic practice. It will be important to track the prevalence of board certification among clinical neuropsychologists engaging in forensic practice, as this may come to represent a practice standard (real or perceived) among practitioners and legal professionals that could significantly impact the practice of forensic neuropsychological assessment” (p. 13).

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Authored by Amanda Reed

Amanda L. Reed is a doctoral student in John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s clinical psychology program. She is the Lab Coordinator for the Forensic Training Academy. Amanda received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wellesley College and a Master’s degree in Forensic Psychology from John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her research interests include evaluator bias and training in forensic evaluation.

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Assessing Sentence Comprehension May Reduce the Frequency of Invalid MMPI-2-RF Protocols

Assessing sentence comprehension, as opposed to word reading, may reduce the frequency of Invalid MMPI-2-RF Protocols in forensic evaluation. This is the bottom line of a recently published article in International Journal of Forensic Mental Health. Below is a summary of the research and findings as well as a translation of this research into practice.

Featured Article | International Journal of Forensic Mental Health | 2017, Vol. 16, No. 3, 239-248

Assessing Reading Ability for Psychological Testing in Forensic Assessments: An Investigation with the WRAT-4 AND MMPI-2-RF

Authors

Kiera Himsl, Patton State Hospital
Danielle Burchett, Loma Linda University
Anthony M. Tarescavage, California State University
David M. Glassmire, Kent State University

Abstract

This study examined the association between two measures of WRAT-4 reading ability—Word Reading and Sentence Comprehension—and two well-validated measures of inconsistent responding—MMPI-2-RF Variable Response Inconsistency (VRIN-r) and True Response Inconsistency (TRIN-r) among 136 forensic inpatients (90 men, 46 women). It was hypothesized that WRAT-4 Sentence Comprehension would demonstrate stronger associations with VRIN-r than WRAT-4 Word Reading. It was also hypothesized that there may be a minimal association between Sentence Comprehension and TRIN-r. Although WRAT-4 Word Reading was not significantly correlated with VRIN-r (rs = -.17, p = .07) or TRIN-r (rs = -.10, p =.31), Sentence Comprehension was significantly correlated with VRIN-r (rs = -.27, p = .01). A hierarchical regression predicting VRIN-r scores indicated that WRAT-4 Sentence Comprehension significantly accounted for an additional 5.4% of the variance in VRIN-r scores after accounting for self-reported education level and Word Reading (p = .03). However, Word Reading did not significantly account for any additional variance in VRIN-r after accounting for Education and Sentence Comprehension (incremental R2 = .001, p = .74). These results suggest that Sentence Comprehension (rather than Word Reading) should be assessed prior to administering psychological testing, especially in forensic settings.

Keywords

MMPI-2-RF, WTAT-4, reading level, consistency, forensic assessment

Summary of the Research

“One of the reasons for the widespread use of the MMPI [Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory] instruments in forensic evaluations is their utility in measuring an examinee’s test-taking styles. Burchett and Ben-Porath (2010) found that the validity (as measured by external correlates) of MMPI-2-RF substantive scales was lower among examinees instructed to feign than among examinees who took the test under standard instructions. Therefore, forensic clinicians can be more confident in test scores when the reliability and validity of the examinee’s responses have been evaluated formally as part of the assessment” (p. 239).

“Two of the MMPI-2-RF Validity Scales—Variable Response Inconsistency (VRIN-r) and True Response Inconsistency (TRIN-r)—assess for inconsistent responding, which is most relevant to the current investigation. VRIN-r examines variable (i.e., random) responding, whereas TRIN-r assesses fixed responding by indicating whether examinees engage in acquiescent (i.e., fixed true) or counter-acquiescent (i.e., fixed false) responding styles” (p. 239).

“Because the MMPI-2-RF uses a subset of items from the MMPI-2 item pool, issues related to item-level reading comprehension are similar for the two instruments. Schinka and Borum (1993) calculated the grade level reading equivalent of MMPI-2 items using the formula for Flesch-Kincaid grade level, which utilizes word and syllable counts. The Flesch-Kincaid grade level of the MMPI-2 was roughly at the 4th to fifth-grade reading level, although some scales had grade level estimates at the sixth- to seventh-grade level” (p. 240).

Schinka and Borum cautioned that using an examinee’s completed grade level as a proxy for reading ability may result in overestimation of reading ability and concluded that individuals with less than an eighth-grade education may require additional assistance (e.g., synonyms for unrecognized words) due to the possibility of insufficient reading skills” (p. 240).

“Given these cautions, it is important to note that a large portion of adults in the United States have basic (“indicates skills necessary to perform simple and every- day literacy activities”) or below basic (“indicates no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills”) literacy skills” (p. 240).

“MMPI-2-RF scales assessing important clinical constructs are likely to be less accurate among test protocols that were answered inconsistently and/or not pre-screened for consistency of responding” (p. 240).

Measures used: MMPI-2-RF and WRAT

“Archival MMPI-2 and MMPI-2-RF protocols were utilized from a larger data set of inpatients at a state-operated forensic psychiatric hospital […] All participants were primary English speakers” (p. 241).

“TRIN-r is first calculated by counting the raw number of TRIN-r True responses and TRIN-r False responses for each examinee. The raw count of False item pairs is subtracted from the raw count of True item pairs. Higher scores above 50T indicate an overall acquiescent response style, and lower scores indicate a counter-acquiescent response style” (p. 243).

“To determine whether WRAT-4 performance predicted inconsistent and acquiescent/counter-acquiescent responding above and beyond variance accounted for by self-reported grade level, hierarchical regression analyses were conducted.” (p. 243).

In addition “[A] series of hierarchical regression analyses [was conducted] in which the predictor of self-reported education was entered into the first block, WRAT-4 Word Reading was entered into the second block, and Sentence Comprehension was entered into the third block. This series of analyses was also conducted with education in the first block, Sentence Comprehension in the second block, and Word Reading in the third block.” (p. 244)

“In the second analysis in which self-reported education was entered into the first block, Sentence Comprehension into the second block, and Word Reading into the third block” (P. 244)

Results:
“[T]he WRAT-4 Word Reading subtest was not significantly correlated with VRIN-r or final TRIN-r; however, WRAT-4 Word Reading was significantly correlated with TRIN-r True. As expected, the WRAT-4 Sentence Comprehension subtest was significantly correlated with VRIN-r and TRIN-r True, but was not significantly associated with TRIN-r False or final TRIN-r. Both the WRAT-4 Word Reading and Sentence Comprehension subtests were significantly correlated with self-reported education attainment” (p. 244)

“It is important to note that a greater number of participants had Word Reading data than Sentence Comprehension data, which impacted the power for some analyses. Self-reported education was not significantly correlated with VRIN-r, final TRIN-r, TRIN-r True, or TRIN-r False” (p. 244).

“The results indicated that WRAT-4 Word Reading was associated with fixed acquiescent responding, but not with variable responding, whereas Sentence Comprehension was associated with variable responding and fixed acquiescent responding” (p. 245).

Moreover, from the hierarchical regression analyses “[T]he first block, which consisted of self-reported education, significantly accounted for 4.4% of the adjusted variance in VRIN-r scores. In the second block WRAT-4 Word Reading was entered, which did not significantly account for additional variance in VRIN-r; however, Sentence Comprehension significantly accounted for an additional 5.4% of the variance when entered into the final block” (P. 244)

“[W]ith Sentence Comprehension in the second block, rather than the third, Sentence Comprehension accounted for an addition 5.8% of the variance above and beyond self-reported education” (p. 244)

“The authors found that several MMPI-2-RF overreporting and underreporting scales were affected by random responding and acquiescent responding. Additionally, the authors found that MMPI-2-RF scales of overreporting produced fewer misclassifications when protocols were pre-screened with VRIN-r and TRIN-r before interpreting the overreporting scales” (p.240).

Translating Research into Practice

“Sentence Comprehension should be assessed prior to administering psychological testing like the MMPI-2-RF, particularly in cases where reading ability is questionable, as it appears to generalize better than Word Reading to the task of completing a self-report inventory” (p. 245).

“Examiners should be mindful that although word reading tasks are substantially more expedient than sentence comprehension tasks, the results of the current study suggest that word reading does not generalize as well as sentence comprehension to the consistent completion of self-report psychological tests” (p. 245).

“[I]n many cases any time saved by using a shorter word reading task might then lead the examiner to conduct lengthy self-report psychological testing that may be invalid in cases where examinees with low reading levels were not adequately screened for reading comprehension” (p. 245).

“[R]eading comprehension issues can impact performance on validity indicators, such as VRIN-r. In cases where reading comprehension is poor, administering the standardized audio version of the MMPI-2-RF is recommended” (p. 246).

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Unlike the MMPI instruments and other multi-scale inventories such as the Personality Assessment Inventory, several other psychological tests do not have validity scales to identify if an individual was responding consistently to test items.” (p. 245).

In addition, “Limitations of this study include use of a relatively small sample and a lack of experimental control over the time between administration of the WRAT-4 and the MMPI-2-RF, due to the use of archival data” (p. 246).

“[R]eading ability is generally considered a test of premorbid functioning that is stable across time for adults, the amount of variability in reading ability over time is likely limited” (p. 246).

“In the second block WRAT-4 Word Reading was entered, which did not significantly account for additional variance in VRIN-r [and] it is important for future research to confirm if reading ability as assessed with the WRAT-4 is likely to remain stable for patients with psychotic spectrum diagnoses” (p. 246).

“It is recommended that future researchers consistently administer reading tests to all patients during the same testing session as the MMPI-2-RF. Future research with larger sample sizes would be useful for more fine-grained analyses of subgroups with different reading levels” (p. 246).

“[F]uture research examine the effect of language comprehension issues on validity indicators. Additionally, many individuals may have limited reading abilities in English due to English not being an individual’s primary language, which highlights the importance of assessing reading ability in English prior to testing” (p. 246).

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Authored by Ahyun Go

Ahyun Go graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a BA in Forensic Psychology. She was also minoring in Police Studies. She plans to continue her studies in forensic psychology MA program in the near future. Her main research interests include cognitive biases and crime investigation.