Judicial decision making in atkins cases: examining the influence of psychological reports and judicial attitudes
The impact of psychological assessment report style (i.e., deficit- versus strength-based reports), report content (e.g., claimant educational background, details of the instant offense, prison behavior), and judicial attitudes toward intellectual disability (ID) were assessed with regard to judicial decision-making in a mock Atkins case. A between-groups study (i.e., strength- and deficit-based report groups) was conducted through the use of a mixed-mode design. Participants included 122 judges serving in either federal or state courts. Results supported the hypothesis that the style in which a psychological assessment report is written is influential in final case outcome. Specifically, the strength-based report group was significantly more likely to find against ID than the deficit-based group, and the deficit-based group was more likely to find in favor of ID than the strength-based group. Contrary to the hypotheses, judicial attitudes toward ID did not predict the extent to which participants weighed certain report content in their final decision (i.e., relevant evidence against ID, not relevant to the decision, relevant evidence in favor of ID). However, the results showed that the extent to which participants weighed the claimant’s index offense to be evidence in support of ID was a significant predictor of final case outcome; when the index offense was viewed as evidence against ID, participants were more likely to find against ID. Personal experience with the ID population was not a significant predictor of final case outcome, but as knowledge of the diagnostic criteria increased, participants were more likely to find in favor of ID. The perceived credibility of the psychologist who authored the mock report did not predict participant agreement with the report’s final conclusion regarding ID. Overall, the results of this study indicated that the general style in which psychological assessment reports were written influenced judicial decision-making in a mock Atkins case. In addition, the results of this study revealed that attitudes toward and experience with ID were less influential in judicial decision-making than initially believed. Knowledge of ID was revealed to be a significant predictor of final case outcome. The limitations of this study and suggested directions for future research are discussed.