Why Do Forensic Experts Disagree? Sources of Unreliability and Bias in Forensic Psychology Evaluations

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Abstract

Recently, the National Research Council, Committee on Identifying the Needs of the Forensic Science Community (2009) and President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST; 2016) identified significant concerns about unreliability and bias in the forensic sciences. Two broad categories of problems also appear applicable to forensic psychology: (1) unknown or insufficient field reliability of forensic procedures, and (2) experts’ lack of independence from those requesting their services. We overview and integrate research documenting sources of disagreement and bias in forensic psychology evaluations, including limited training and certification for forensic evaluators, unstandardized methods, individual evaluator differences, and adversarial allegiance. Unreliable opinions can result in arbitrary or unjust legal outcomes for forensic examinees, as well as diminish confidence in psychological expertise within the legal system. We present recommendations for translating these research findings into policy and practice reforms intended to improve reliability and reduce bias in forensic psychology. We also recommend avenues for future research to continue to monitor progress and suggest new reforms.

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