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Sentencing for sex crimes could turn on biased evaluations

Sentencing for sex crimes could turn on biased evaluations

The role of a Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer is not always to clear someone’s name; sometimes the evidence of guilt is overwhelming and there is little a criminal defense lawyer can do to free his or her client. That does not mean, however, that a lawyer is useless, but rather the lawyer’s job is to ensure the trial is fair and the punishment is appropriate. For many criminal offenses, including sex crimes, a sentence may depend heavily on the evaluation of a mental health professional. In these cases, part of the lawyer’s job is to make sure that the evaluation is unbiased, because if it is not, the defendant could find him- or herself facing a long sentence in prison.

A disheartening study out of the journal Psychological Science, however, has found that forensic psychologists and psychiatrists are not always as unbiased as they should be. Four psychologists tested their counterparts by convincing them that they had been hired by either the prosecution or the defense to review a case of violent sexual assault and give their opinion on the defendant. Unfortunately, the results found psychologists assigned to the prosecution were all fairly consistent and those assigned to the defendant had much greater variation, indicating bias.

No offender in Minnesota should be subjected to an unjust prison sentence, no matter what the crime. Everyone should be fairly evaluated and a judge should have accurate and complete information about a case before issuing a sentence, which means that criminal defense lawyers’ jobs go beyond proving innocence and into protecting against bias.

Source: Popsci.com, “Researchers Expose Troubling Bias In Forensic Psychology,” Francie Diep, August 28, 2013

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