A new study conducted by the Texas Defender Service and Professor John Edens of Sam Houston State University found that state predictions of the future dangerousness of capital defendants were grossly inaccurate. The review examined the cases of 155 inmates in which prosecution expert witnesses had predicted the inmate would be a future danger to society and in which the state asked for the death penalty. However, only 8 (5%) of these inmates later engaged in any seriously assaultive behavior resulting in an injury requiring treatment of more than first-aid. Thirty-one of the 155 inmates (20%) had no records reflecting any disciplinary violations. The remaining 75% of inmates committed less grevious disciplinary infractions involving conduct short of serious assaults, including minor infractions such as possessing cash or lotto tickets, food in their cells, or too many sheets. None of the inmates in the study committed another homicide, and only two inmates have been prosecuted for crimes committed while in prison. One was exonerated by the courts and freed from death row.

The study, “Deadly Speculation: Misleading Texas Capital Juries with False Predictions of Future Dangerousness,” was prepared by the Texas Defender Service, a non-profit law firm involved in capital litigation, and Dr. John Edens, a psychologist and professor at Sam Houston State University. “There are strong reasons to question the accuracy of predictions of violence made by prosecution experts in capital murder trials. It seems impossible to reconcile the glaring inaccuracy of the predictions made by these experts with the requirement that death sentences be meted out in a non-capricious manner. It is incumbent on mental health experts to avoid engaging in fraudulent testimony that is lacking in any meaningful scientific foundation,” Dr. Edens noted. Texas is one of only two states that allows “future dangerousness” to play the critical role in whether an individual receives a death sentence, despite the fact that the practice is rejected by the psychiatric expert community as unreliable. (Texas Defender Service Press Release, March 31, 2004)

Read the Study. Read the Press Release.