Mitigation specialists can play a crucial role in legal defense, particularly in capital cases. They can provide defense attorneys with professional analysis, investigative information, key evidence and experts needed to testify regarding circumstances presented in the case. A mitigation specialist will seek to uncover as much background information as possible regarding the defendant in order to inform the jury and make recommendations to the court during the sentencing phase.
While backgrounds of mitigation specialists vary, most have a four-year degree in criminal justice, psychology, social work, sociology, journalism or anthropology. They may have a network of professionals including forensic psychiatrists and psychologists, substance abuse treatment providers, forensic accountants, forensic computer analysts and others.
Since attorneys often lack both the time and expertise to supervise the investigative process, they instead rely on these final reports submitted when preparing for court. As such, a mitigation specialist needs to prove his or her competence in all phases of the job before the defense team will extend an offer. The goal of the mitigation report is to provide a truthful accounting to the judge or jury of how did this defendant come to commit the crime. It is not meant to justify the crime, rather to provide a comprehensive explanation of how the individual came to be where they are, and to point out how their limited choices and past personal experiences contributed to the situation.
The most effective use of a mitigation specialist is to include them right from the beginning of the case as part of the defense team. A comprehensive mitigation report takes extensive research and investigation. Time is needed to identify, request, collect and review documentation of the defendant’s early life, including medical, educational, mental health, judicial and incarceration records. Investigations include interviews of family members and other key contacts.