Underlying Personality for Abuse and Mitigation Questions

At the time of sentencing mitigation, a defendant may consider presenting evidence of a psychological vulnerability. While history may provide equivocal evidence for abuse, psychological testing reveals the impact of trauma or earlier abuse on interpersonal relatedness, decision making, self-esteem, and other relevant patterns of personality. Psychological testing may also bear upon questions of whether someone was the prime mover in a crime or acting under duress or seduction of another. Such testing may also illuminate the trigger for emotional outburst that drives criminal decision-making.

The Forensic Panel considers psychological testing a useful instrument in rendering a vivid understanding of the texture and unique features of any given offender’s personality. The defendant’s history provides a basis upon which testing can then contribute to appreciation of whether an offender had any unusual qualities or limitations that inspire compassion, whether the offender is predatory, psychopathic, both, or neither.

The Forensic Panel recognizes the awesome burden of accurately representing the many facets of a defendant amidst legal disputes as contentious and momentous as death penalty proceedings. Test instruments are utilized with careful allowance for the limitations posed by validity studies to date. Special caution is taken, for example, in interpreting data drawn from self-report instruments that offer unfettered opportunity for embellishment or distortion. The Forensic Panel peer review process was pioneered precisely for such challenges as examinations of diagnosis and personality. It is imperative to insulate the examination from the polarizing influences of the case at hand, to ensure that our assessments are frank, substantiated and accurately vivid portrayals, and to embed those assessments in updated standards of personality assessment and the context of the instant offense.