Faculty Articles

Title

Ethnic adjustment abuses in forensic assessment of intellectual abilities.

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2019

Publication Title

Practice Innovations

ISSN

2377-8903

Volume

4

Issue/No.

4

Abstract

Within the past few years, courts have been more open to accepting evidence of psychological research. For instance, in 2002, the United States Supreme Court, citing an American Psychological Association (APA) Amicus brief, declared that the execution of mentally retarded individuals was unconstitutional because it violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Between 2005 and 2012, the Supreme Court accepted APA briefs describing the limitations in neural development of adolescents and its relevance to sentencing. In 2013, the Court ruled that in assessing an individual’s intelligence there must be a consideration of the standard error of measurement. All of this suggested a progressive movement in judicial recognition of psychological research. However, during the same time, many courts were allowing and accepting testimony in capital sentencing cases of so-called ethnic adjustment. Some psychologists were testifying that defendants who were from ethnic minority groups had IQ scores that were suppressed and that therefore their scores had to be “adjusted” upward to compensate for the suppression. However, these adjustments were based purely on clinical judgment and did not reflect any empirical studies. As a result, several of these individuals who had their IQ scores adjusted have been executed. This article will describe the case law surrounding this concept, ethical issues that it raises, and how a practitioner can provide useful consultation to attorneys who represent defendants in such cases.

DOI

10.1037/pri0000103

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Peer Reviewed

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