Field Reliability of Competency and Sanity Opinions: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

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Abstract

We know surprisingly little about the interrater reliability of forensic psychological opinions, even though courts and other authorities have long called for known error rates for scientific procedures admitted as courtroom testimony. This is particularly true for opinions produced during routine practice in the field, even for some of the most common types of forensic evaluations—evaluations of adjudicative competency and legal sanity. To address this gap, we used meta-analytic procedures and study space methodology to systematically review studies that examined the interrater reliability—particularly the field reliability—of competency and sanity opinions. Of 59 identified studies, 9 addressed the field reliability of competency opinions and 8 addressed the field reliability of sanity opinions. These studies presented a wide range of reliability estimates; pairwise percentage agreements ranged from 57% to 100% and kappas ranged from .28 to 1.0. Meta-analytic combinations of reliability estimates obtained by independent evaluators returned estimates of κ = .49 (95% CI: .40–.58) for competency opinions and κ = .41 (95% CI: .29–.53) for sanity opinions. This wide range of reliability estimates underscores the extent to which different evaluation contexts tend to produce different reliability rates. Unfortunately, our study space analysis illustrates that available field reliability studies typically provide little information about contextual variables crucial to understanding their findings. Given these concerns, we offer suggestions for improving research on the field reliability of competency and sanity opinions, as well as suggestions for improving reliability rates themselves.

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