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The Depravity Standard III: Validating an evidence-based guide

Michael Welner a, Kate Y. O'Malley a, James Gonidakis a, Alisha Saxena b, Jada Stewart-Willis a
a The Forensic Panel, 224 West 30th Street, Suite 806, New York City, NY, 10001, United States
b Teachers College, Department of Clinical Psychology, 428 Horace Mann, New York, NY 10027, United States


Purpose: The Depravity Standard is an evidence-based guide developed to operationalize an approach to distinguish the worst of crimes in a consistent manner that minimizes bias. This phase of the research was designed to validate the Depravity Standard items and develop a scoring mechanism. Methods and results: Inter-rater reliability was performed by two groups of trained raters, with each of the 25 Depravity Standard items finding high agreement. To distinguish the relative severity of each item as they may occur in a murder case, an online public survey was devised. U.S. participants (n =1273) rated each item on a scale of 1–100 (100 =most depraved). The items were then applied to 770 case files of adjudicated murder convictions to establish content validity. 582 cases were retained for further analysis, and merged with survey data to establish a percentile scoring system. Conclusions: The Depravity Standard is validated for application to murder cases to inform the presence or absence of the 25 items of depravity. It enables assessment of relative depravity of a perpetrator's intent, victim choice, actions, and attitudes. Application of the Depravity Standard relies on evidence, minimizes bias and prejudice, and promotes fairness in sentencing and release decisions.

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