Hofstra Law Review


This article appears in the Hofstra Law Review symposium issue on the Supplementary Guidelines for the Mitigation Function of Defense Teams in Death Penalty cases.

A PhD. in psychology, the author formerly served on the faculty of Duke University Medical Center, where her primary emphasis was on traumatic stress syndromes and the psychological consequences of chronic exposure to interpersonal violence. For the last fifteen years she has been assisting capital defender organizations in integrating mental health themes into mitigation narratives. This article presents the current state of scientific knowledge about trauma, treating the subject from these dual perspectives.

The inevitable existence of trauma among all of those affected by a murder - including the client, his family members, survivors, and witnesses being interviewed about the crime or the client - is a critical barrier that the defense team must recognize as it investigates. On the other hand, the almost equally invariable presence of traumatic factors in the client's background frequently provides powerful mitigating material, as the Supreme Court has held several times in recent years. The defense team must accordingly gather and use this material effectively.

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