Use of the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised in Legal Contexts: Validity, Reliability, and Evidentiary Issues

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The construct of psychopathy has received considerable attention from clinicians, researchers, and legal practitioners because of its demonstrated association with a range of outcomes of interest to the criminal justice system. The Psychopathy Checklist-Revised (PCL-R) is generally regarded as the premier assessment tool for measuring psychopathy in correctional and legal contexts, and the PCL-R is being used with increased frequency to address a variety of legal questions. This article provides a comprehensive examination and review of the PCL-R’s use in legal contexts. We begin by reviewing various uses (appropriate and inappropriate) of the PCL-R in legal contexts, using the risk-need-responsivity (RNR) model as the conceptual framework. After reviewing available data regarding the use of the PCL-R in legal contexts, we review and synthesize psychometric research with psycholegal relevance, with a focus on the PCL-R’s construct validity, predictive validity, and interrater reliability. We then discuss the scientific acceptability and clinical utility of the PCL-R’s structural, predictive, and measurement properties for credibility in court, followed by sample cross-examination questions. We conclude with a review of admissibility issues relating to the use of the PCL-R in various legal proceedings.

Goals and Objectives

Skill Level 


David DeMatteo, PhD | Drexel Univeristy 
Mark E. Oliver


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