July 15, 2007

Attorneys in the testing room – Yes or No?

Hey, you forensic psychologists: When an attorney asks if she can sit in while you test her client, what do you tell her?

If you think there is one accepted answer, think again.

The National Academy of Neuropsychology and the American Academy of Clinical Neuropsychology say you should keep that attorney out. Her presence may violate test standardization, skewing the results.

But some forensic psychologists, such as Randy Otto, say banning third-party observers may be legally problematic. Some states allow defendants in court-ordered evaluations to bring in observers. And when a defendant speaks another language, we may need an interpreter in the room.

This issue is heating up, as the Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment (CPTA) of the American Psychological Association’s Board of Scientific Affairs prepares to issue a policy statement on third-party observers.

You can watch the fireworks as proponents debate their positions at the American Psychological Association convention in San Francisco next month. The debate, “Third-Party Observers in Psychological and Neuropsychological Forensic Psychological Assessment,” will be Saturday, August 18, at noon.

Another source of information is the latest issue of the journal Ethics & Behavior. Robert Cramer and the eminent forensic psychologist Stanley Brodsky have co-authored an article, “Undue Influence or Ensuring Rights? Attorney Presence During Forensic Psychology Evaluations."

The article summarizes the neuropsychological literature on extraneous influences in testing and the limited literature on the effects of attorney presence in the testing room. It also discusses legal and ethical mandates pertaining to attorney presence and offers suggestions for forensic evaluators on how to answer the attorney who asks to sit in.

Requests for reprints of the article may be sent to crame001@bama.ua.edu.