This is a very common response when I suggest to attorneys that we obtain a psychological evaluation of our client in preparation for sentencing. Of course there may be reasons a psychological evaluation would not be beneficial. For example, if your client will be testifying against a co-defendant in exchange for a 5K1.1 cooperation departure and he exposes psychological issues that could reduce his credibility and ultimately ruin his chances for a 5K1.1. departure.
I have recommended getting a psychological evaluation in approximately 80% of my cases. Most often, I am not looking for a DSM V diagnosis of a mental disorder. Rather, I am looking for verification and support for reasons behind why the client decided to violate the law after 50 years of leading a good, honest, hardworking life, being kind to others and contributing to his community.
Judges, want to know: What happened to this person? Why did he risk everything? It doesn’t make sense.
Uncovering the right information will reveal themes to explore for the psychological evaluation
Developing a detailed social history is an important first step in obtaining the right kind of information which will be useful to the doctor conducting the psychological evaluation. Using interview techniques to build a rapport and a level of trust is key in making the client feel comfortable discussing very personal issues. This allows me to discover underlying mitigating factors, such as possible psychological conditions or previously undisclosed abuse, that could otherwise be missed.
Psychological evaluations are tools to verify and support your mitigating themes
A psychological evaluation offers support by a professional to add value and confirmation to your issues for mitigation. The report along with character letters from family and close friends who also offer examples of the same issues, adds to the credibility to these issues. For example, if your client is the “go to person” for everyone and cannot say “no”, is the ultimate people pleaser, a psychological evaluation will reveal this through interviewing and testing. Character letters from family and close friends can provide examples of the client’s conduct that supports this theme.
Psychological evaluations are powerful tools to support your explanation
A key step in my investigation is discovering contributing factors in the client’s decision to cross the line and violate the law. There is often a fine line between an excuse and an explanation. Acknowledging wrongdoing and expressing remorse is critical. A psychological evaluation may provide a thoughtful explanation of issues that contributed to the client’s conduct while also helping the client gain insight and follow recommended counseling, treatment or medication. Gaining insight and engaging in treatment will reduce the likelihood of recidivism. It will also go a long way to convincing the court that the client is addressing the issues which led to his involvement in the offense and that his sentence should not only include punishment but also treatment and rehabilitation.
In addition to addressing the “Why” question, psychological evaluations verify that treatment is a necessary component to the sentence imposed, as an alternative to prison or to support a sentence that includes less prison and more treatment.
My goal in obtaining a psychological evaluation is to answer these questions and arrive at a conclusion that makes sense. It will assist the judge in understanding the defendant’s conduct, convince him that the client can obtain the right kind of treatment and not recidivate, and the client can use the assistance to greatly improve the rest of his life. Psychological evaluations have proven to be very valuable tools for sentencing.