Behavioral Sciences & the Law

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Volume 5 Issue 4 (Autumn (Fall) 1987), Pages fmi-fmi, 381-494

Psychiatric prediction of dangerousness in capital sentencing: The quest for innocent authority (pages 433-446)


Eight states require the sentencer in a capital case to consider directly the question of whether a criminal defendant would pose a danger to the community in the long term. Although all available psychiatric evidence indicates that psychiatrists cannot make accurate predictions of criminal defendants' future dangerousness, sentencers rely heavily upon clinicians' predictions of long‐term future dangerousness when imposing the death penalty. Legislatures and courts accept psychiatrists' predictions of dangerousness by relying on an elaborate “subterfuge” which uses powerful emotional influences to cover up painful conflicts of values and to satisfy society's desire for simultaneous innocence and authority.

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