Psychology Tests Used in Court to Show Defendant’s Supposed ‘Low Risk’ for Sex Crimes

By Sydney Kaplan

OAKLAND, CA – An expert psychology witness was the focus in an Alameda County Superior Court trial Tuesday in the David Arias child molestation proceedings.

This witness, Dr. Alexandra Schmidt, extensively assesses sex offenders, focusing on pedophilia, psychopathy, and other anti-social behaviors. She was called to the stand by the defense led by Assistant Public Defender Kathleen Ryals.

Allegedly, Arias was sexually inappropriate with a minor on multiple occasions. And, although it was not further discussed in Schmidt’s testimony, the prosecution, led by Deputy District Attorney Robert Ross, implied there were further instances of abuse.

On the stand, Schmidt described several tests she performed on Arias while he was being held in jail. These tests were performed during a four-hour conversation with the defendant and included the “Static 99 test” and the “Stable 2007 test.”

Both of these tests, Schmidt explained, look for “risk factors” associated with psychopathy and pedophilia. The Static 99 test focuses on several “risk factors” including age, relationship history, personal history/previous convictions.

Arias received a score of zero on the Static 99 test. According to Schmidt, this test is held as the “gold standard” of sex offender tests and is “highly correlated with higher risk of committing a violent crime.”

Schmidt testified that a zero on the Static 99 test is the lowest risk measurable; allegedly, this score makes Arias unlikely to commit violent and sexual crimes.

However, several risk factors are focused on the victim’s characteristics, Schmidt said. Most notably, if the victim is a family member, the total score decreases instead of increases.

Schmidt described the Stable 2007 test as more clinical, noting, “It gets more personalized and identifies areas of strength as well.” Arias scored very low on the Stable 2007 test as well, indicating low risk for predatory behavior.

However, the prosecution had some more questions concerning the test. During the cross-examination, the prosecution asked, “If Arias were to directly say to you ‘I am attracted to young children,’ would that change the result of the test?”

The answer was unclear. “It would not significantly raise the score,” Schmidt reported back. She admitted the test, focusing on a client’s violent past, would not have its results drastically altered if the client were to admit to violent crime.

“It’s like comparing apples and oranges. [It’s just not really] relevant when it comes to the Static [99] or the Stable [2007] tests,” Schmidt explained, “[Molestation] is not an act that necessarily comes with implied arousal so questions like these aren’t really relevant.”

When the prosecution learned that the test results would largely be unaltered by admissions of violent crime, the DDA seemed even more skeptical of these psychology tests.

DDA Ross also brought doubt to these tests by asking Schmidt several questions surrounding her motivation to testify.

In an accusatory statement, Deputy District Attorney Ross asked, “Is it true that you were hired to give a helpful diagnosis to the defense?”

Schmidt responded quickly with, “No. I was hired to give a diagnosis.”

But, as was revealed in court, Schmidt was paid $3,000 to be at the hearing. In addition, she billed the defense $5,500 to meet with Arias at the prison.

Ross pointed out the subjectivity and questionable nature of these tests to Schmidt: “The DSM [and similar tests are] psychologically focused, [but] that is very different from [focusing on the] legality,” he said.

The trial is set to conclude this week.

About The Author

Sydney Kaplan is a rising third-year at Santa Clara University. With a Political Science major and Journalism & Economics minors, her main passion lies in discovering the various intersections between her fields of study. Currently, she is most interested in comparative media policy and criminal justice reform.

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