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Perkins, Andrew Brian, Becker, Judith V., Becker, Judith V., Becker, Judith V., Beck, Connie J.A., Mehl, Matthias, Sbarra, David A.


Mitigating evidence is evidence that is presented during the sentencing phase of a trial and is meant to argue for leniency in sentencing. A new form of psycho-legal professional, called a mitigation specialist, is being relied upon more often to assemble the diverse array of psychosocial factors into coherent arguments for less severe sentences. Unfortunately, there is a lack of empirical evidence upon which such professionals can base their work. This is of particular concern in the context of sex offenses—where strong attitudes may overwhelm legal instruction. In collaboration with the Office of the Pima County Public Defender, the current investigation utilized 209 cases; half involving sex offenses, half involving violent non-sexual offenses, and half utilizing professional mitigation, half not utilizing professional mitigation, to better elucidate the effects of professional mitigation reports on sentences in cases involving sexual and violent nonsexual crime. Results revealed that the effectiveness of mitigation reports was heavily moderated by case type. While mitigating evidence was effective in reducing sentence length for violent nonsexual offenses, it had the opposite effect in the cases involving sex offenses. Psychological reports, however were effective in reducing sentence lengths for cases involving sex offenses. Individual mitigating factors and lexical characteristics (examined through Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count software) did not show any consistent relationship with sentence length, suggesting that the effect of the mitigation reports as a whole cannot necessarily be discerned from its parts. Limitations, future directions, and possible implications for the practice of mitigation specialists are explored.


text, Electronic Dissertation


Sentencing, Sex Offender, Psychology, Mitigation

Contributing Institution

University of Arizona

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