The Broward County, Fla., public defender’s office is reviewing use of student interns after a mistake apparently contributed to a defendant’s conviction. The Miami Herald says the gency relied on an inexperienced psychology trainee to conduct a sanity test on a woman and that an error “helped seal” her first-degree murder conviction.
The Herald says the defender’s office has stopped using the trainees to screen murder defendants and has hired two outside ethics experts to check the psychologists it uses and the methods they rely on in murder cases. It has stopped using expert testimony from a psychologist instructed an intern to improperly change test answers.
The findings of the public defender’s review may affect as many as eight pending first-degree murder trials. Under a program with Nova Southeastern University, psychology interns have been learning by conducting tests and interviewing defendants. The defender’s office did not learn until recently that professors were sending interns alone to conduct tests in first-degree murder cases.
Psychologists are divided over the use of interns in high-stakes criminal trials. Most interviewed by The Herald said interns can conduct simple tests, as long they are supervised. Still, “an intern or an unlicensed person doing psychological testing may cause several problems,” said psychologist Amy Swan, “especially when a person’s life may be at stake.”