The Role of the Forensic Psychology Professional in Capital Punishment Sentencing


Assignment 1: Case Study Analysis

Case Study: The Role of the Forensic Psychology Professional in Capital Punishment Sentencing

Mr. Fryer has a long history of psychiatric hospitalizations related to his diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. His delusions revolve around the belief in uniformed spies who have been sent to execute him. He reports auditory and visual hallucinations when not on his medication. He was arrested for trespassing after he was found sleeping in the delivery shed of a warehouse.

During his stay in jail, he was put on antipsychotic medications, and he was released with time served after spending fifty-four days in the jail. Upon his release, he returned to live on the streets and stopped taking his medications. While sleeping on a park’s bench, he was assaulted by several youths, who hit and kicked him. Although his assailants left him on the ground with no serious injuries, Mr. Fryer was convinced that the juveniles who assaulted him were spies who would return to assassinate him.

He found a seventeen-inch pipe to use as a defensive weapon, and, fearing for his life, he hid in the shadows the remainder of the evening. In the morning, he saw two uniformed youths approaching him. A twelve-year-old boy and his fourteen-year-old brother were on their way to a Boy Scout meeting. Mr. Fryer ran up behind the boys and started swinging the pipe wildly, screaming they would never take him alive. He struck the twelve-year-old boy on the head, causing him severe brain trauma. The fourteen-year-old boy was able to flee but only after receiving a blow on the face. Mr. Fryer returned to the twelve-year-old boy and bludgeoned him to death.

He was still hitting the lifeless body when the police arrived. As soon as the police car pulled up, he dropped the pipe and sat in silence as he was subdued. He was determined by the court to be not competent to stand trial and was committed to a state hospital for restoration of competence. After eight months of pharmacological treatment, he was determined by the court to be competent to stand trial and was subsequently tried and convicted of capital murder.

The following are the mitigating circumstances in this case:

At the time of the offense, Mr. Fryer was under extreme emotional and mental distress.

At the time of the offense, Mr. Fryer was substantially unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of his act or conform his actions to the requirements of the law.

The following are the aggravating circumstances in this case:

The crime was committed in a wanton, atrocious, and cruel manner.

Mr. Fryer is likely to commit criminal acts in the future.


Respond to the following points in a minimum of 250 words:

You are hired by the defense to assist in the sentencing phase. Analyze the case study and address the following:

How should you proceed? Provide reasons to support your answer.

What roles do the mitigating and aggravating circumstances play in capital sentencing?

What issues will you address as a forensic psychology professional?

How will you support your opinion in front of the court? Provide examples and references.

How would you prepare for direct examinations and cross-examinations?

Sample paper

Forensic Psychology Professional in Capital Punishment Sentencing

The law prohibits the application of capital punishment to individuals with mental disorders, as exemplified in the Atkins v. Virginia (2002) ruling. In this ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that it was wrong to prescribe capital punishment to individuals with severe mental health issues since it contravenes the Eighth Amendment (Gillespie, Smith, Bjerregaard, & Fogel, 2014). It is worth noting that people suffering from severe mental disorders may commit crimes without the understanding of the magnitude of their actions. However, concerns remain over the death penalty sentence in people who are mentally retarded. This paper examines the role of a forensic counselling professional in capital punishment sentencing.

In the case of Mr. Fryer, I would proceed by arguing that his mental condition is solely to attribute for his recent actions, and that with proper medication, his condition can be controlled. It is clear that Mr. Fryer’s condition worsens when he is not on medication. Thus, it is imperative to ensure that Mr. Fryer remains on medication by putting him on a mental health facility rather than in prison. In Atkins v. Virginia (2002), the Supreme Court ruled against execution of mentally retarded individuals (Gillespie, Smith, Bjerregaard, & Fogel, 2014). The main purpose of this ruling is because mentally ill individuals are regarded less culpable of their actions. As such, their actions do not merit capital punishment. The main purpose of capital punishment is that it acts as deterrence or retribution. In this case, however, there may be no retribution since Mr. Fryer could not substantially appreciate the wrongfulness of his act. Thus, it would not be right to convict Mr. Fryer of capital punishment since at the time of committing offence, he was mentally ill.

Mitigating and aggravating circumstances play a critical role in capital punishment. Mitigation leads to reduced charges for the defendant. According to Gillespie, Smith, Bjerregaard, and Fogel, (2014), mitigation has three main functions in capital punishment – first, it helps to certify the general good conduct of the accused. Second, mitigation helps in proving that the defendant does not pose future danger. Lastly, it helps in reducing the culpability of the defendant concerning the crime he/she is accused of committing. Most of the mitigating factors revolve around culpability. In this, one may argue that the defendant lacks control of his actions, or is unable to appreciate the consequences of his actions. Aggravating circumstances are those that lead to stiffer penalty for the defendant. For instance, the likelihood that the defendant will commit crimes in future is an aggravating circumstance and can lead to stiffer penalty.

As a forensic psychology professional, I will address a number of issues. First, I will address the issue of the defendant’s sanity and competency. It is important to establish whether the defendant actually suffers from any form of mental illness and the severity of the same (Fabian, 2003). Second, I will address the issue of future likelihood of committing crimes. Third, it is imperative to address the defendant’s mental status at the time of committing crime. Lastly, I will address the issue of risk populations with regard to the defendant’s condition. Risk populations are the individuals at risk due to the defendant’s current mental condition.

I will support my opinion in court by examining the criminal history of the defendant. If the defendant has a clean record, then it is clear that his mental illness is solely to attribute for his actions. The background and history of the offender is critical in determining the outcomes of the case. If the offender lacks a significant history of crime, then the court may give a favorable judgment. I will also support my opinion basing on the circumstances of the defendant’s action. Since the defendant suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, his delusions are likely the cause of his actions. Mr. Fryer could not be able to control the delusions.

I would prepare for direct examinations and cross-examinations by using acceptable scientific procedures or methodology. The first step is to ensure that all forms of examination conform to the Daubert’s standard. For instance, it is important to ensure that the examinations utilize proven scientific methods and robust data. As such, it is imperative to use a method that is supported by peer-reviewed studies.


Fabian, J. (2003). Death penalty mitigation and the role of the forensic psychologist. Law and      Psychology Review. Retrieved from            content/uploads/2011/11/alabama_death_penalty.pdf

Gillespie, L. K., Smith, M. D., Bjerregaard, B., & Fogel, S. J. (2014). Examining the impact of    proximate culpability mitigation in capital punishment sentencing recommendations: The      influence of mental health mitigators. American Journal of Criminal Justice :   AJCJ, 39(4), 698-715. doi:          9255-5

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