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Assessment and Reporting for Sentencing


now, or was so at the point of commission of the offence, and to rely also upon data in the report, adopted and used within a legal and not medical paradigm. An example of the latter, as it may apply to the detriment of the defendant, is where an expert collects data to determine whether there was, or is mental disorder present, and concludes in the negative, yet the court then applies the data in the report, for example from clinical interviewing, to the court’s own approach to risk assessment. Or, despite the absence of a diagnosable condition per se, mental symptom data might be used to mitigate sentence.


Te essence of mitigation legally lies in consideration of either/both the nature of the offence per se, and its severity, or/and in the nature of the defendant; and it is in the latter ‘characterological’ regard that expert psychiatric and psychological evidence, both in terms of disorder per se, or symptoms, and in terms of risk assessment, that expert evidence may be considered relevant to the discretionary imposition of the death penalty.


Tere are two legal criteria established in regard to discretionary imposition of the death penalty.


First, whether the offence was ‘the worst of the worst’, sometimes referred to as ‘the rarest of the rare’; although logically the two may not necessarily accord one with the other, they are used interchangeably by courts. Here it is possible, though uncommon in practice, that psychiatric or psychological evidence might be regarded as relevant, to the extent that the court may take into consideration not just the defendant’s actions but also the nature of his thinking, or other aspects of his mental state, at the time of the offence (akin to consideration at trial of both the actus reus and the mens rea)


Second, if it is determined that the case does qualify within the category of ‘the worst of the worst’, then the court will consider whether the defendant is ‘beyond reformation’, and here, almost always, expert evidence will be potentially relevant, albeit alongside other evidence as to his ‘character’.


Common factors considered generally relevant as mitigating factors include:


• Abnormal mental state at time of offence • Abnormal mental state at time of sentence • Young age at time of offence • Absence of previous offending • Te defendant acted under duress or coercion


• Te defendant lacked a measure of ‘reasonable fortitude’ in regard to duress or coercion, or within conviction based upon ‘joint enterprise’, compared to the normal person


• By way of mental disorder the defendant believed that they were acting reasonably • Te defendant was impaired in their capacity to understand the nature of their actions


• Te defendant is learning disabled • Te defendant’s character is ‘abnormal’


Any diagnosis of mental disorder, either at the time of any offence or at the time of sentence, should be clearly described. If a report has been requested solely in relation to sentencing, then there should be a description of any relationship between any mental disorder and the offence, as well as of their


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• Te defendant was impaired such that s/he was limited in her/his ability to follow social, moral or legal norms


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