Is it unethical to offer predictions of future violence

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Psychiatry



Document Type


Medical Subject Headings

Commitment of Mentally Ill; Criminal Law; *Dangerous Behavior; Ethics, Professional; *Expert Testimony; Health Personnel; Humans; Jurisprudence; *Mental Disorders; *Prognosis; *Psychiatry; *Psychology; Risk; Violence




An examination of the nature, foundation, and consequences of predictive testimony about future violence does not support the assertion, sometimes heard, that such testimony is necessarily unethical. Certain types of predictive testimony about future violence may have adequate scientific support. Moreover, society does not require certainty about future violence in order to restrict various liberties. Proper performance of an evaluation related to certain types of predictive testimony can provide an adequate foundation for the testimony. Finally, a consideration of the consequences of legal proceedings that restrict liberty does not support the conclusion that predictive testimony is necessarily ethically improper merely because it uses probabilities that create the potential for a significant number of false-positive legal decisions. Therefore, we would not advise psychology, psychiatry, or the courts to conclude that "predictions of dangerousness" as a class are unethical.

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Citation: Law Hum Behav. 1992 Dec;16(6):621-33.

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