Death Penalty Mitigation Assessment

The mental state component in death penalty defendants should be considered to determine whether they deserve a death sentence or life imprisonment sentence. Schizophrenia might impair the decision-making ability, so the offender may not understand the consequences of a committed crime. Mental health conditions can interfere with the capacity to self-regulate, self-control, and manage aggression (Ashford & Kupferberg, 2013). Based on the confirmed diagnosis of schizophrenia and no recorded history of violence, the defendant requires assessments to confirm or deny the possibility of mental health treatment as an alternative to the death penalty. As the Capital Mitigation Specialist, I would utilize neuropsychological and dangerousness/risk assessments to evaluate the defendant.

The choice of appropriate assessments will assist in the presentation of mitigation in two principal ways. First, the neuropsychological assessment results may reveal brain dysfunctions inhibiting self-control that may provide evidence for the insanity defense. The research by Engelstad et al. (2018) demonstrates that homicide offenders with schizophrenia have clinically significant neuropsychological impairments causing practical rationality issues. The absence of mental state culpability (mens rea) due to a psychotic break may assist in the insanity defense (Ashford & Kupferberg, 2013). Insanity indicates that the crime is non-intentional and irrational and should be treated with reasonable degrees of punishment. Second, risk assessment may determine the defendant’s degree of dangerousness or recidivism and suggest adequate treatability potential (Ashford & Kupferberg, 2013). The defendant’s case does not indicate a history of violence, which might be reflected in the results of risk assessment allowing the possibility of efficient mental health treatment. Thus, the results of the assessments might be used to evaluate the defendant and obtain mitigation evidence to reduce the degree of culpability.


Ashford, J. B., & Kupferberg, M. (2013). Death penalty mitigation: A handbook for mitigation specialists, investigators, social scientists, and lawyers. Oxford University Press.

Engelstad, K. N., Vaskinn, A., Torgalboen, A. K., Mohn, C., Lau, B., & Rund, B. R. (2018). Impaired neuropsychological profile in homicide offenders with schizophrenia. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 85, 55–60. Web.

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