The Role and Reliability of the Psychopathy Checklist—Revised in U.S. Sexually Violent Predator Evaluations: A Case Law Survey
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The civil commitment of offenders as sexually violent predators (SVPs) is a highly contentious area of U.S. mental health law. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is frequently used in mental health evaluations in these cases to aid legal decision making. Although generally perceived to be a useful assessment tool in applied settings, recent research has raised questions about the reliability of PCL-R scores in SVP cases. In this report, we review the use of the PCL-R in SVP trials identified as part of a larger project investigating its role in U.S. case law. After presenting data on how the PCL-R is used in SVP cases, we examine the reliability of scores reported in these cases. We located 214 cases involving the PCL-R, 88 of which included an actual score and 29 of which included multiple scores. In the 29 cases with multiple scores, the intraclass correlation coefficient for a single evaluator for the PCL-R scores was only .58, and only 41.4% of the difference scores were within 1 standard error of measurement unit. The average score reported by prosecution experts was significantly higher than the average score reported by defense-retained experts, and prosecution experts reported PCL-R scores of 30 or above in nearly 50% of the cases, compared with less than 10% of the cases for defense witnesses (κ = .29). In conjunction with other recently published findings demonstrating the unreliability of PCL-R scores in applied settings, our results raise questions as to whether this instrument should be admitted into SVP proceedings.
author list (cited authors)
DeMatteo, D., Edens, J. F., Galloway, M., Cox, J., Smith, S. T., & Formon, D.