A matter of life or death: special considerations and heightened practice standards in capital sentencing evaluations

Behav Sci Law. 2001;19(4):473-90. doi: 10.1002/bsl.460.


Mental health evaluations at capital sentencing represent a complex and specialized arena of practice. The moral culpability focus of capital sentencing is distinct from guilt-phase considerations of criminal responsibility, and has a specialized literature. Capital violence risk assessment is uniquely oriented to a prison context, relying on past adjustment to incarceration, as well as group statistical data specific to capital offenders and other inmate groups. Personality testing is a more complex consideration in capital sentencing evaluations. The implications of interviewing the defendant, as well as the parameters and documentation of an interview, make full disclosure and informed consent of particular importance. Defense- and prosecution-retained experts are subject to specific ethical vulnerabilities. These are examined in this paper through the lens of current professional standards.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Capital Punishment / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Criminal Psychology / standards*
  • Expert Testimony*
  • Forensic Psychiatry / standards*
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Risk Assessment
  • United States
  • Violence / psychology