A recently published book (Oxford University Press) provides a great resource for forensic mental health professionals involved in capital cases. This article provides a brief summary of the contents of the book and some brief comments about the book from leaders in the field.

Forensic mental health assessments in death penalty cases are on the rise due in part to the continuing development of forensic psychology and psychiatry as professions, combined with several recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.  Forensic mental health professionals are now conducting assessments at every stage of death penalty proceedings, ranging from pretrial evaluations to determine eligibility for the death penalty to evaluations conducted post-sentencing and closer to the date of the execution.  Yet there are surprisingly few comprehensive resources for students interested in death penalty assessments, clinicians who conduct those assessments, and attorneys who work with forensic mental health professionals.

Forensic Mental Health Assessments in Death Penalty Cases cases fills this gap in the literature by providing background on death penalty litigation and key court cases, a discussion of ethical considerations for clinicians who conduct assessments in death penalty cases, guidance on conducting various types of assessments in death penalty proceedings, and sample forensic reports illustrating best practices.  This book will help students in the fields of mental health, criminal justice, and law gain a solid foundation of information related to capital punishment and the role of forensic mental health professionals in death penalty cases.  This book will also provide guidance for clinicians who conduct mental health assessments in death penalty cases.  Finally, this book will serve as a resource for attorneys who work with forensic mental health professionals.

Forensic Mental Health Assessments in Death Penalty Cases

This book consists of 10 chapters, each of which is comprehensive and well-written. The book begins with an overview of forensic mental health assessments in death penalty cases (Chapter 1) and then moves into a discussion of death penalty litigation (Chapter 2) and death penalty jurisprudence (Chapter 3). Ethical considerations for death penalty assessments are covered in Chapter 4 and then Chapters 5 and 6 discuss death penalty eligibility with respect to two types of evaluations–Atkins-type evaluations (involving individuals with diagnoses of mental retardation or developmental disability) and competence for execution evaluations (involving individuals with mental illness or cognitive deficits). Chapter 7 discusses evaluations addressing mitigation in capital sentencing and Chapter 8 discusses evaluations of violence risk in capital sentencing. The book concludes with a discussion of the application of principles of forensic mental health assessment to death penalty cases (Chapter 9) and sample reports from death penalty cases (Chapter 10).

The two lead authors, Dave DeMatteo & Dan Murrie, are top scholars in forensic psychology and have the academic and clinical experience to provide meaningful and thorough discussion and commentary on these issues. This book reflects their measured, professional, and best practices approach to forensic mental health assessment and is a valuable resource for anyone involved in conducting evaluations for the courts in capital cases.

What Others are Saying

“Dr. DeMatteo and his colleagues address a range of forensic mental health assessments, all related to death penalty litigation. They thoroughly consider up-to-date key legal cases, ethical issues, and methodology relevant to psychologists and psychiatrists working in this difficult area of practice. The inclusion of tables describing mitigating and aggravating factors and definitions of mental retardation on a state-by-state basis is an important feature of this book. This book is appropriate for graduate students, for ‘seasoned’ forensic mental health professionals, and for clinicians interested in developing expertise in evaluating a range of capital cases.” —Alan M. Goldstein, Ph.D., ABPP, Board Certified in Forensic Psychology and Professor Emeritus, John Jay College of Criminal Justice

“In Forensic Mental Health Assessments in Death Penalty Cases, DeMatteo and colleagues have done a superb job of distilling the domains important for mental health evaluations in capital contexts. Having identified and described the issues surrounding Atkins, competence for execution, mitigation, and violence risk assessment, they go on to frame these issues within the larger context of best practice in forensic assessment. This book is scholarly, comprehensive, and practical-a combination that is certain to appeal to all who are (or aspire to be) involved in the process of capital litigation.” —Kirk Heilbrun, Ph.D., Drexel University

“For better or worse, the United States continues to permit executions, and over thirty states house hundreds of people on death row. Mental health professionals are almost always involved in these cases. If you are such a professional, or a lawyer contemplating using a mental health expert in a capital case, this book will provide you with all the basic legal and clinical information you need. It is the only book of its kind, and well worth a look.” —Christopher Slobogin, Milton Underwood Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School

“This book is a wonderful addition to the body of knowledge in capital case evaluations, presenting both legal and mental health information in-depth and in a nuanced, thoughtful manner. The chapters on Atkins-type evaluations, mitigation evaluations, and the specifics of forensic assessments in capital cases are excellent guides for evaluators. For mental health professionals and attorneys who work in death penalty cases, this book is an indispensible resource.” —Stanley L. Brodsky, Ph.D., The University of Alabama

Photo courtesy of Oxford University Press