Malingering: the impact and influence in Atkins cases

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University of Alabama Libraries

Intellectual disability (ID) is a condition characterized by deficits in intelligence and adaptive behavior with onset during the developmental period. As a result of its recognition that individuals with ID are vulnerable within the confines of the legal system, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) precluded these individuals from a sentence of death (Atkins v. Virginia, 2002, 536 U.S. 304). Justice Scalia, an ardent dissenter in Atkins, argued this decision would encourage defendants to feign ID to avoid the death penalty. Though empirical research has not yet evaluated Justice Scalia’s concerns, a review of the literature by Salekin and Doane (2009) found that cognitive malingering measures that are typically utilized in forensic settings may not be appropriate for an ID population. The purpose of the current study was two-fold. First, to conduct an analysis of Atkins judicial opinions to investigate the frequency with which the issue of malingering is raised, the methods used by experts to evaluate malingering, and the impact that malingering evidence may have on determinations of ID in these cases. Second, to conduct an empirical investigation into the influence of malingering evidence on determinations of ID in Atkins. Malingering was found to have been mentioned in approximately one third of publically available post-conviction Atkins opinions collected and was found to have an impact in Atkins proceedings. In the experimental manipulation, there were no differences found in determinations of ID related to type of malingering evidence presented (i.e., clinical judgment vs. actuarial data) although participants considered such testimony in their decision-making. Additionally, opposing expert testimony about the questionable use of actuarial measures of malingering did not impact ID determinations.

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Psychology, Law