Downward & Upward Departure in Sentencing

In federal criminal cases, courts consider whether mental health, medical or psychosocial information warrants more compassionate sentencing resulting in downward departure. Upon review of input from a forensic psychiatrist or other physician, a judge may consider downward departure in the form of a lesser sentence. In the experience of The Forensic Panel, a forensic inquiry often has exceptionally greater impact on downward departure cases than pre-sentencing evaluations conducted by departments of probation or other statements brought forth from interested parties.

Downward Departure Evaluation

Downward departure forensic examinations require a broad consideration of psychiatric, psychosocial, and medical factors and their impact on the defendant past and present. Among such issues may be a non-coerced, non-manipulative admission of responsibility, the defendant’s immaturity, minor role in the crime, mental disorder that reduces capacity to appreciate the conduct’s criminal nature, or that requires diversion to specialized treatment. The defendant might also have acted under duress or provocation, or agrees to compensate the victim and needs to work to do so.

Upward Departure Evaluation

Upward departure from the guidelines is also possible. A defendant with prior convictions, a history of violent offenses, or a high risk of recidivism may seem clearly established as a threat to society. In that case, the judge may extend the person’s time in prison beyond what the guidelines suggest.

Incorporating collateral input of family and friends, as well as from co-workers and a host of sometimes improbable sources, enables The Forensic Panel to build upon our experienced, probing, and sensitive interviewing to educate the court three-dimensionally, about who a defendant really is and whether upward departure is appropriate. Included in such forensic examinations is attention to sentencing alternatives when the option is available. This may be particularly important to defendants with more severe diagnoses, particularly since the quality of treatment may be markedly better in the community than behind bars. The impact of incarceration on suicide risk, the defendant’s children and life after prison, and safety considerations, all find relevance in such pre-sentencing forensic evaluations.

Peer Reviewed Upward and Downward Departure Assessment

Because of the very important considerations of returning an admitted guilty offender to society, The Forensic Panel’s peer-reviewed oversight ensures scrupulous consideration of standards of the field and the most objective examination of who the defendant really is. There is nothing cookie-cutter about our forensic psychiatrist’s work, and when we sign off on an expert evaluation for downward departure or upward departure, the court gains an understanding of the defendant on many levels – candidly, and with adherence to scientific standards of diagnosis, definition, and treatment recommendations.