The role of the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide and Historical, Clinical, Risk-20 in U.S. courts: A case law survey

Michael J. Vitacco, Steven K. Erickson, Samantha Kurus, Brian Neil Apple

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


In the landmark case Barefoot v. Estelle (1983), the United States Supreme Court held that behavioral scientists are not "incompetent to predict with an acceptable degree of reliability that a particular criminal will commit other crimes in the future, and so represent a danger to the community." The Court held to this opinion, even in light of evidence that mental health practitioners were incorrect in their violence predictions two out of three times. Although Barefoot focused on a death penalty case, the dicta of the decision was extensive and broadly implicated all types of risk assessment. The decision in Barefoot had a positive effect by focusing professional attention and research efforts on violence prediction. Eventually, specialized measures were developed to assist in violence prediction. Measures such as the Violence Risk Appraisal Guide (VRAG; Harris, Rice, & Quinsey, 1993) and the Historical-Clinical-Risk 20 (HCR-20; Quinsey, Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 1998) are now frequently used in clinical and forensic settings throughout the United States and Canada. This article presents case law data from 46 cases on the VRAG and/or HCR-20 found in a legal database search of published and unpublished court cases in Federal and State jurisdictions across the United States. A summary of these cases is presented along with legal and policy implications for using these specialized risk assessment instruments in various legal proceedings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-391
Number of pages31
JournalPsychology, Public Policy, and Law
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012


  • Legal proceedings
  • Risk assessment
  • VRAG, HCR-20

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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