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Study finds many psychological tests used in court unreliable

Courts in Alabama and across the U.S. are admitting unreliable psychological and IQ tests into evidence in court, according to a new study. Experts say the use of such tests can unfairly influence judges or juries in a variety of court cases.

For the study, which was published in February in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, researchers analyzed tests that were introduced into 876 U.S. court cases between 2016 and 2018. They found that the generally well-regarded Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory was the most commonly used psychological test in the county. However, the Rorschach test, which was first introduced in 1921, was the second most commonly used test, and many scientists consider it too ambiguous and subjective to be an accurate measure of an individual's psychological state.

Researchers also found that around one-third of all the tests used hadn't been reviewed in prominent psychological manuals. Of the tests that had been reviewed, only 40% received good ratings. Furthermore, almost 25% received poor marks. Even though many of the tests used in court were unreliable, only 3% of them faced legal challenges. According to legal experts, judges and attorneys depend on psychological professionals to vet testing methods before they are put on the market. Unfortunately, this is not being done, which could negatively impact rulings in everything from child custody hearings to criminal court cases.

Individuals facing charges for domestic violence, felonies or other crimes might benefit from working with a criminal defense attorney. The attorney might be able to successfully challenge any unreliable psychological tests that prosecutors attempt to introduce into evidence. Likewise, legal counsel may be able to introduce reliable tests that make a favorable impression on the judge or jury. When combined with other important legal defense strategies, these actions might lead to the charges being dismissed or to the defendant winning an acquittal at trial.

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