Psychopathy and the Dealth Penalty: Can the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised Identify Offenders Who Represent "A Continuing Threat To Society?"

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Psychopathy has gained increasing importance in the field of risk assessment in the last decade, in large part because of the established association between this construct and future violence and criminality. Situations in which the prediction of “future dangerousness” is at issue appear to be logical areas in which the assessment of psychopathic traits would be relevant to decision-making. One recent application of psychopathy has been its inclusion in death penalty cases, wherein Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) scores have been introduced to support the position that a defendant will represent a “continuing threat” to society—even if serving a life sentence in prison. Despite such claims, a review of the relevant research indicates that the empirical basis for these conclusions is minimal at present. This article summarizes what is known about the relationship between psychopathy and violence, and reviews the legal and professional implications of this research in relation to the use of the PCL-R in the penalty phase of capital cases.

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The Journal of Psychiatry & Law, v. 29, issue 4, p. 433-481