The Importance Of Recognizing Trauma Throughout Capital Mitigation Investigations And Presentations (PDF)

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Psychological trauma lies at the heart of death penalty cases. This is most immediately and obviously true because of the unspeakable grief and irrevocably altered lives that follow the loss of a loved one to homicide. But it is also an almost universal feature of the lives of capitally charged and convicted defendants. Assessing the role of trauma is (or should be) an essential component of any competent mitigation investigation and any competent assessment of mental health issues in a capital case. Sadly, many clients on death row across the country—clients with trauma histories of extraordinary severity and chronicity—had little or no information about these histories presented at trial. Others had some limited information provided, but that information was incomplete, poorly developed and presented, and lacked a coherent explanation or expert guidance as to its significance and the unique psychological factors that rendered them so disabled. Still others suffered a complete breakdown in their relationships with defense teams, caused in part by the team’s failure to understand the unique aspects of their client’s history, background, and culture.

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