Psychological Defenses and Mitigation of Punishment

Sean O'Brien, University of Missouri - Kansas City, School of Law

Book Chapter.


The growing realization that flawed forensics has destroyed innocent lives and caused responsible parties to escape justice has prompted systematic studies of forensic methods, leading to recommendations for reform. Mental health forensics have not benefited from a similar systematic scientific assessment. Failure to adhere to forensic standards related to mental health and cognitive abilities can contribute to wrongful convictions and punishments when the legal actors – judge, jury, prosecutor or defense attorney – lack accurate or complete information. In this chapter, we discuss the need to investigate mental health issues, the general guidelines for such investigations, and the importance of utilizing a multidisciplinary defense team qualified to understand signs of mental health and cognitive challenges. It is only through this systematic, thorough, accurate assessment that one can come to understand how specific impairments operated in the defendant’s everyday life, thereby avoiding a miscarriage of justice.