Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What topics do you want covered? The poll is open

On the right-hand side of this blog I've added a poll for voting on categories of topics readers would like posts on.  Please vote to help give direction and focus to future posts.  There is so much to discuss...some user feedback would be appreciated.

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New IQ, MR and Death Penalty blog: Looking for guest bloggers, ideas, suggestions, etc.

Today I'm officially unveiling the Intellectual Competence and the Death Penalty blog to others.  I've been running this blog "under the radar" in order to ascertain my real motivation in maintaining it and to build some initial content.  I think I'm ready to give it a "go for launch."

First, I would suggest that all readers check out my purpose statement.

Second, at this time I'm seeking nput from others on potential topics and issues that readers would like me to comment on...or find relevant research.  Send me ideas [or you will end up living with what I deem important].  Be sure they are related to the areas that are the focus of this blog (see purpose statement link above).

Third.  I'm seeking guest bloggers.  I'd be interested in mental health professionals who would be interested in making guests posts.  I'd also be interested in those from the legal profession who deal with Atkin's cases providing relevant guest posts.  Contact me via my email in my profile.

Fourth.  I'm seeking content and links.  If you know of relevant blogs, articles, links, resources, etc., please forward to me for possible inclusion.

Fifth.  I would appreciate blog roll links at other relevant blogs and web pages.  If you provide me a link, send me a note and I'll check out your site and, if relevant and appropriate, will add it to my blog roll.

Thank you.  I hope this blog finds its niche and provides useful information to those involved in the "life-and-death" issues surrounding mental retardation and the death penatly.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why might expert witness IQ scores differ? Intelligence theory and IQ tests

Why are divergent IQ score results often presented by different experts testifying in Atkin's cases?  The reasons are many.   I intend to explore the major measurement/psychometric reasons in a number of future posts.

One of the primary reasons may be the use of different IQ tests (by different psychologists) that vary in their breadth of measurement of the major domains of human intelligence.  In particular, I will focus on the contemporary consensus psychometric theory known as CHC theory to explain score differences.  What is CHC theory?

The Cattell-Horn-Carroll Theory of Cognitive Abilities (aka., CHC theory) is now serving as the blueprint for the development and/or revision of most major intelligence tests.  It is only a matter of time before the courts begin receiving expert testimony (and or reports) based on CHC-designed IQ batteries or non-CHC IQ batteries interpreted via the CHC lens.

This current post is intended to make readers aware of the prominence of CHC theory in intelligence testing circles.  Its application to IQ test results in Atkin's cases will be discussed  in future posts.  For now, readers should check out the two best overview articles the describe CHC theory.  Yes...they are written by the blogmaster.  This is not boasting...this is just a factual statement.  The two references are listed below.  One was an invited editorial in the journal Intelligence and the other a recent book chapter.  Links to the sources are provided below (note - the link for the book chapter is to a 2004 pre-publication web-based version of the eventual 2005 book chapter).
  • McGrew, K. (2009).  Editorial:  CHC theory and the human cognitive abilities project: Standing on the shoulders of the giants of psychometric intelligence research, Intelligence, 37, 1-10. (click here to view or download pdf)
  • McGrew, K. S. (2005).  The Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory of cognitive abilities:  Past, present and future. In D. Flanagan, & Harrison (Eds.), Contemporary intellectual assessment: Theories, tests, and issues (p.136-202). New York: Guilford Press. (click here to view web-based version of chapter)

Stay tuned.  Much more on this topic in the future.  If readers want to stay abreast re: the most recent CHC theory and assessment research, I post this information at a sister blog (Intelligent Insights on Intelligence Theories and Tests; aka., IQs Corner)

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Book review: A life for a life--The American Debate Over the Death Penalty

I received an FYI email from the Death Penalty Information Center regarding a new book about the death penalty in America. I do not have a copy nor have I read the book. This is an FYI post only...not a pro or con endorsement by the blogmaster.

From the DPIC web page the following book description:
In the book, A Life for a Life: The American Debate Over the Death Penalty, author Michael Dow Burkhead, a psychologist who has worked with criminal offenders for 25 years, explores the various trends in public opinion that influence crime prevention efforts, create public policy, and reform criminal law. He examines eight core issues about the use of executions: cruel and unusual punishment, discrimination, deterrence, due process, culpability, scripture, innocence, and justice. The book provides a brief history of capital punishment in the United States from the earliest known execution in1608 to the present time. Additional topics include the regionalization of capital punishment sentences, the spiritual and scriptural debate over the death penalty, the role of DNA evidence in modern death sentences, and the ongoing effects recent court rulings. The appendix includes recent state commission reports on the death penalty from Maryland, California, New Jersey, and Tennessee.

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Definition: Forensic Psychology

What is forensic psychology?

The Wikipedia definition page can be found by clicking here.

According to the American Board of Forensic Psychology:
Forensic Psychology is the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system. The word "forensic" comes from the Latin word "forensis," meaning "of the forum," where the law courts of ancient Rome were held. Today forensic refers to the application of scientific principles and practices to the adversary process where specially knowledgeable scientists play a role.

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APA Atkin's relevant professional divisions: 33 and 41

Psychologists involved in Atkin's proceedings need to be aware of certain standards, ethics, etc. On the right-side of this blog I'm adding (on a continual basis) important professional resources. As recommended in a recent article by Olley (2009; I'm currently skimming this article and will provide a post sometime soon), membership in certain American Psychological Association Divisions can be helpful in securing information, networking with others involved in Atkin's cases, etc. Two in particular are suggested:
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Journal: Mental & Physical Disability Law Reporter

In my last post I featured the ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law. I forgot to mention the journal publication featured by the commission, which would likely be a valuable resource for professionals involved in Atkin's death penalty cases. Check out Mental and Physical Disability Law Reporter. At the web page, the journal is briefly described as:

  • Published since 1976, the Reporter provides timely summaries of reported legal developments over a two-month period in 22 subject areas covering disability discrimination law and civil and criminal mental disability law. Available in print and online.

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ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law

A "must resource" for mental health professionals who become involved in Atkin's death penalty cases is the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (CMPDL). Below is the purpose statement for this ABA commission.

The Commission's mission is "to promote the ABA's commitment to justice and the rule of law for persons with mental, physical, and sensory disabilities and to promote their full and equal participation in the legal profession." The Commission consists of 15 members appointed by the ABA President-elect on an annual basis. It meets bi-annually at its headquarters in Washington, D.C. to map out future plans and to direct its current activities.

The ABA’s Commission on the Mentally Disabled was established in 1973 to respond to the advocacy needs of persons with mental disabilities. After the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the ABA broadened the Commission’s mission to serve all persons with disabilities and changed its name to the Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law (CMPDL). Today, the Commission carries out an array of projects and activities addressing disability-related public policy, disability law, and the professional needs of lawyers and law students with disabilities.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Who is on death row (with focus on MR/IQ)? Cunningham and Vigen (2002) review

Who is on death row? What are the intellectual capabilities of individuals facing execution?

The following 2002 literature review attempted to answer the above (and more) questions. Whether the findings of this 7 year old survey hold true today is not known. If I can find relevant information I will post it.
  • Cunningham, M. D. and Vigen, M. P. (2002). Death Row Inmate Characteristics, Adjustment, and Confinement: A Critical Review of the Literature. Behavioral Sciences and the Law, 20, 191–210 (click here to view).

[note: Italics are direct quotes. Underline is emphasis added by the blogmaster]


This article reviews and summarizes research on death row inmates. The contributions and weaknesses of death row demographic data, clinical studies, and research based on institutional records are critiqued. Our analysis shows that death row inmates are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately Southern. Racial representation remains controversial. Frequently death row inmates are intellectually limited and academically deficient. Histories of significant neurological insult are common, as are developmental histories of trauma, family disruption, and substance abuse. Rates of psychological disorder among death row inmates are high, with conditions of confinement appearing to precipitate or aggravate these disorders. Contrary to expectation, the extant research indicates that the majority of death row inmates do not exhibit violence in prison even in more open institutional settings. These findings have implications for forensic mental health sentencing evaluations, competent attorney representation, provision of mental health services, racial disparity in death sentences, death row security and confinement policies, and moral culpability considerations. Future research directions on death row populations are suggested.

According to Cunningham and Vigen (hereafter referred to as the "authors"), the research "literature on death row inmates has not been comprehensively summarized and reviewed. This article attempts to fill that void by reviewing the extant literature on the characteristics of death row inmates, their adjustment to prison, and their conditions of confinement."

The scope of coverage of this review article is impossible to summarize in a single blog post. More importantly, the focus of this blog is on the mental retardation/intellectual competence characteristics of this population. As thus, this post will only summarize the information in this survey article related to this focus. Other topics discussed (methodological review of prior research; woman, race, psychological disorders, neurological disorders, drug use, etc. issues) will not be covered (readers can view the original article for this information)

According to the authors:
  • Eleven of the 13 clinical studies reported data on the intellectual capability of death row samples. Mean IQ scores were in the average to low average range, generally consistent with the intellectual capabilities of general prison population inmates (Panton, 1976). A significant minority of death row inmates, though, exhibited marked intellectual limitations. For example, 27% of the Mississippi death row sample investigated by Cunningham and Vigen (1999) had WAIS-R Verbal IQ scores below 74.
  • Similarly, Frierson et al. (1998) reported that 28% of their death row sample obtained IQ scores in the borderline or mentally retarded classifications.
  • National demographic data (Snell, 2001) indicate that 52.3% of death row inmates did not finish high school and 12.7% attended only to the eighth grade or less. Median formal education was 11th grade. These rates of educational attainment are similar to or only modestly lower than those observed in the general state prison population nationwide
  • Clinical studies on death row inmates found a somewhat lower level of formal education, typically reporting a mean of ninth grade schooling.

Authors Conclusions:
While much of the research on death row inmates has limitations in specificity, sampling, methodology, and reporting, there are a number of recurrent findings. To summarize these, death row inmates are overwhelmingly male and disproportionately Southern. Over half of death row inmates are non-whites. A majority did not graduate from high school. Mean IQ scores of death row inmates are in the low average-to-average range, but a disturbingly large minority exhibits IQ scores in the borderline and mental retardation ranges. Functional literacy capabilities are well below what would be expected from the years of schooling attended. Whether these literacy deficits are the result of learning disabilities or other factors cannot be determined from the current data. There is also a significant incidence of neurological and neuropsychological abnormalities among death row inmates. Psychological disorders are quite frequent among death row inmates. The particularly adverse conditions of death row confinement in some jurisdictions appear to not only undermine efforts to adaptively cope, but also act to aggravate psychological symptoms. Current prison mental health interventions are insufficient.

Policy Implications (as per authors)
given the conclusions of the clinical studies, mental health experts performing forensic evaluations at capital sentencing should be attentive to the presence of neurological abnormalities, learning disabilities, psychiatric disorders, and traumatic developmental histories. These vulnerabilities were more frequently identified in studies that undertook broader and more time intensive evaluations. This speaks to the need for comprehensive examinations as well as sufficient interview duration for reasonable self-disclosure to occur. Adequate forensic evaluation at sentencing, therefore, requires particularly careful assessment of the vulnerabilities of this population, as well as knowledge of the current literature regarding the behavioral implications of these deficiencies and underlying adverse developmental factors.

the intellectual, literacy, and psychological deficits of most death row inmates render them incapable of responding to the demands of direct appeals or postconviction proceedings without the assistance and representation of qualified legal counsel

the significant percentage of racial minorities, and particularly African– Americans, on death row nationwide has varying interpretations—the most disturbing of these asserting that racial bias in the application of the death penalty, whether by race of offender or race of victim, is both a historical legacy and a continuing social policy problem.

the incidence of psychological symptoms and mental health problems among death row inmates calls for comprehensive mental health services. Effective treatment of psychological symptoms and disorders among death row inmates is not only humane, but likely to facilitate institutional management and reduce disciplinary misconduct.

it is disturbing that so many inmates on death row are so obviously damaged—developmentally, intellectually, educationally, neurologically, and psychologically. To the extent that the death penalty is intended to punish those murderers who are most morally culpable, there would seem to be some miscarriage of that intent when it is visited upon individuals who are manifestly damaged, deficient, or disturbed in their psychological development and functioning.

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Geography, MR and the death penatly: Ethics related issues for psychological experts

The state in which an individual with intellectual disabilities (MR) resides, when they commit a capital punishment crime, may have bearing on whether they are executed or not, and raises potential ethical issues for psychologists who conduct assessments as expert witnesses.

In the following 2006 journal article, Duvall and Morris outline a number of critical issues that psychologists must recognize when serving as expert witnesses in Atkin’s MR/death penalty cases. The primary focus of the article was on the U. S. Supreme Court Atkin's (2002) ruling that deferred to the states when defining mental retardation.
  • Duvall, J. C. & Morris, R. J. (2006). Assessing Mental Retardation in Death Penalty Cases: Critical Issues for Psychology and Psychological Practice (2006). Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 37 (6), 658 – 665. (click here to view)
In 2002, the United States Supreme Court decided the Atkins case, which held that mentally retarded defendants could not be executed. The opinion gave no guidance on the definition of mental retardation, preferring to leave to individual states the task of determining not only the definition of mental retardation but also the assessment procedures to be used in making the diagnosis. This lack of guidance has resulted in many issues, including varying definitions of what constitutes mental retardation across states, use of different assessment procedures to make the determination that a person has mental retardation, and numerous psychometric concerns regarding the provision of psychological assessment services to the courts in capital cases that involve a defendant who may have mental retardation. This article examines these latter issues in detail from both psychological and legal perspectives and makes recommendations for practicing psychologists.

[noteitalics designates direct quotes. Underlining reflects emphasis of the blogmaster].

MR Definition Issues:

The Atkins opinion recognized two different clinical definitions of mental retardation--the 1992 American Association on Mental Retardation (AAMR) defintion and, the 2000 definition published by the American Psychiatric Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text rev.; 2000).
The 1992 AAMR mental retardation definition requires substantial limitations in present functioning “characterized by significantly sub-average intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with related limitations in two or more of the following applicable adaptive skill areas: communication, self-care, home living, social skills, community use, self-direction, health and safety, functional academics, leisure and work.” Further, mental retardation must manifest before age 18 (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002, p. 308, n. 3).
The American Psychiatric Association formulation is as follows: The essential feature of mental retardation is significantly sub-average general intellectual functioning (Criterion A) that is accompanied by significant limitations in adaptive functioning in at least two of the following skill areas: communication, self-care, home living, social/ interpersonal skills, use of community resources, self-direction, functional academic skills, work, leisure, health, and safety (Criterion B). The onset must occur before age 18 years (Criterion C). (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p. 41)
At the time of this 2006 article, according to the authors, the federal government and 38 states permitted the execution of defendants found guilty of capital crimes. Prior to Atkins only 19 states had enacted statutes prohibiting the execution of persons meeting a statutory definition of MR. After the SCOTUS decision an additional 10 states enacted such statutes. "In addition, 11 states that permit imposition of the death penalty still lack any express statutory bar to the execution of a person having mental retardation. These states are Alabama, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wyoming (“Oklahoma Senate,” 2006; “Our Turn,” 2006; Rawls, 2005)."

An example of the post-Atkin's effect on states was the state of Texas which, via Atkins, "compelled the Texas Court of Appeals to make its own definition of mental retardation, and it chose the 1992 AAMR definition (Ex Parte Briseno, 2004). Courts in other states that still lack governing statutes have created their own definitions and procedures as well."

A valuable component of the this article was the provision (via a table) of a summary of the definitions, operational cut-off scores, and any mandated assessments in different states that had laws protecting individuals with MR from being executed (see Table 1 in article) As Duvall and Morris discuss, a situation can arise where a psychologist is faced with an ethical issue when a state has a different cut-off score for MR when compared to the AAMR and APA operational definitions.
many statutes appear to provide that an IQ score above 70 (or in Connecticut, above 69) would alone defeat a defendant’s claim that mental retardation exempts him or her from eligibility for the death penalty. These legislated cutoff scores directly conflict with American Psychiatric Association and AAMR definitions, which permit IQ scores of 70 to 75 as indicative of sufficiently subaverage intellectual functioning (Luckasson et al., 2002).

the use of a “70” IQ score as a cutoff score reflects a statistical convention rather than a natural boundary and that using precise cutoffs mistakenly suggests that a 1-point difference in two people’s scores reflects a significant difference in their cognitive capacities.

Flynn Effect issues:

According to Duvall and Morris, in 2006 no state statute specifically addressed the Flynn effect (see prior posts), an issue that can have a major impact on death penalty cases.
For example, in those cases in which a defendant was convicted during either the beginning or end of a renorming period, the defendant’s IQ could be artificially lower or higher.
Thus, a potentially important implication of the Flynn effect is that some borderline death row inmates or capital murder defendants who were not classified as mentally retarded in childhood because they were administered an older version of an IQ test will qualify as mentally retarded if they are administered a more recent test. Given the magnitude of the effect (nearly a full standard deviation decrease in IQ is associated with changing norms since the first edition of the WISC was phased out in the early 1970s), the shifts in eligibility for death row inmates could be significant.

Potential ethical issues:

As per the 2002 Ethics Code and Legally Mandated Procedures for Assessing Mental Retardation In the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (APA, 2002), Standard 9.02(a) states: “Psychologists administer, adapt, score, interpret, or use assessment techniques, interviews, tests, or instruments in a manner and for purposes that are appropriate in light of the research on or evidence of the usefulness and proper application of the techniques” (p. 1071).

Although this standard may sound simple in the abstract, Duvall and Morris discuss a number of potential ethical issues that may surface for psychologists as a function of the state in which they perform as an expert witness. For example:

the question arises whether the legally mandated practices in many states involving a number of test administrations by different experts within a short period are consistent with the “proper application” of the procedure for measuring IQ. Standard 2.04 of the ethics code states that “Psychologists’ work is based on established scientific and professional knowledge of the discipline” (APA, 2002, p. 1064). The question here is whether “established scientific and professional knowledge” supports psychologists performing multiple intellectual assessments within a short period of time, without communicating with other professionals regarding which tests were used, and without considering the impact of practice effects and related reliability and validity issues on the test results obtained. The concern is particularly pressing in states such as Kentucky and Tennessee where the case law appears to make the psychologist’s scoring of an IQ test the sole cause for disqualifying a defendant claiming mental retardation to escape
According to Duvall and Morris (in 2006):
it appears that no states whose statutes provide for more than one examination by different experts include any provision expressly addressing the psychological measurement issues or the test–retest reliability problems Moreover, no state statute mandates communication between the evaluators so multiple assessment using identical instruments can be avoided
A number of the issues raised by the authors boil down to “ how should a psychologist proceed who (a) is interested in providing psychological services to the court to determine whether a person has mental retardation and (b) desires to behave in a manner consistent with the APA ethics code?”

According to Duvall and Morris, the APA ethics code does provide some assistance for these situations via Standard 1.02:
which addresses what to do if ethical responsibilities conflict with law, regulations, or other governing authority. It states, psychologists must make known their commitment to the Ethics Code and take steps to resolve the conflict. If the conflict is not resolvable via such means, psychologists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations, or other governing legal authority. (APA, 2002, p. 1063)

However, Duvall and Morris point out that by following the law a psychologist could be violating basic principles and practices of accepted psychological testing practice—“therefore, a psychologist who provides psychological assessment services to a particular state, as well as any subsequent expert testimony, will conceivably act in accordance with the law while at the same time providing results and testimony that could very possibly be inconsistent with current professional standards of practice, or as the ethics code states, “established scientific and professional knowledge” (APA, 2002).”

So. What is a conflicted psychologist to do?
One way to counteract this conundrum is for the psychologist to follow Standard 1.02 of the APA ethics code by adhering to the law and stating in his or her psychological report, as well as indicating in his or her court testimony the limitations of his or her findings based on the standards of sound psychological testing practices. By informing the court, as well as the prosecution and defense, a decision can be made regarding the fairness of the psychologist’s assessment. A more simple solution is for psychologists to refuse appointments to provide assessments in those states whose statutes clearly violate sound psychometric practices. When the difference in a single IQ point can mean the difference between eligibility and ineligibility for the death penalty, it would appear to us that psychologists involved in these cases should apply the standard of psychological care advocated by the APA ethics code rather than the law.

Summary and Conclusion Section of Article

The lack of guidance in Atkins about definitions and procedures appears problematic for psychological practice because states have different definitions of mental retardation, cutoff score criterion, and assessment procedures. Moreover, some procedures mandated by statute appear to defy sound psychological measurement principles. These circumstances have created an ethical dilemma for those psychologists who choose to assist states in determining whether a defendant in a capital case has mental retardation. Psychologists must follow both the law and the ethics code of their profession. The problem is that the implementations of the Atkins decision in many states can cause psychologists to act in a manner that may violate the APA ethics code. In these instances, psychologists could refuse to accept a court appointment to provide such services and, therefore, avoid an ethical–legal conflict. In instances, however, where such an appointment is accepted, it would appear that psychologists should state clearly in their report to the courts (as well as in any subsequent testimony) the specific limitations associated with their findings that affect the external and internal validity of the test results.

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Monday, August 3, 2009

Book review: Criminal Mental Heath and Disability Law: Evidence and Testimony

I've not read this book nor do I have a copy.  It was mentioned in a "comment" to the Purpose statement of this blog.  I just noticed the comment and decided to mention the resource and provide a link.  I would like to encourage other readers of this blog to submit other resources that may be relevant and useful to readers.  This post should not be recognized as an endorsement/recommendation of the is just an FYI post.

Thanks for the information.
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