Phoenix Criminal Defense Attorney
Let a Former Prosecutor Fight for You You Don't Have to Face Tough Charges Alone

Risk Assessments in Sex Crimes Cases

In the defense of many Arizona sex crimes cases it is useful during plea negotiations to retain a mental health specialist to do a "risk assessment." A risk assessment consists of a battery of tests that are conducted by the mental health specialists on the accused individual in an effort to determine any inherent recidivist tendencies, i.e., to determine whether the accused is likely to commit the same or similar crimes in the future.

NOTE THAT RISK ASSESSMENTS ARE VALUABLE FOR THE DEFENSE ONLY IN THE CASE WHERE THE DEFENDANT IS GUILTY TO AT LEAST SOME DEGREE OF THE ALLEGATIONS IN THE INDICTMENT.

Obviously, predicting the future is impossible, and there's a bigger ethical question still in relation to whether an individual should be punished for a crime he has not yet convicted. But in the context of sex crimes defense, a good risk assessment can be very helpful in plea negotiations. The fact is - the prosecutorial agencies and courts buy into the current theories in the mental health field that suggest the ability to identify those people who are most likely to reoffend. It is therefore often one goal of the defense to show the prosecution team that a particular defendant is a low risk to reoffend.

During the course of the risk assessment, the doctor or counselor will ask the defendant to submit to a body of written tests that have been found in the social sciences to measure a variety of factors. One of the major factors the tests measure and evaluate relate to the defendant's areas of sexual interest and whether these areas of interest are deviant (non-normative) sexual interests, e.g., a sexual attraction to children. The second major factor that the tests purport to measure is the defendant's future ability to control any non-normative sexual urges. In other words, what are the chances that this guy can control himself if we release him from custody?

The tester will also likely require the defendant to admit or deny the charges pending, or at least admit to some aspect of those charges. The tester will, in fact, ask for a complete sexual history of the defendant. If it sounds like a massive invasion of privacy, rest assured that it is. Most specialists who conduct risk assessments rely on polygraph examination (lie detector test) to verify that truthful answers are given during the interview with the defendant. Polygraph examination is somewhat controversial in this context. The reliability of the "science" of polygraph testing is doubtful enough that polygraph tests don't even meet the minimum standards for admissibility in the Arizona courts. Notwithstanding this shortcoming, the mental health specialists and prosecutors DO rely on polygraph testing in the context of risk assessment. Thus, it is imperative that the defendant pass a polygraph examination prior to submitting a risk assessment that will be of any help whatsoever.

And the polygraph examination leads to the important informal purpose of the risk assessment in the plea negotiation context. The prosecutor is seeking to determine that the defendant has not sexually abused any people other than those that are considered in the instant charges. A risk assessment that shows "no prior victims" should help put the prosecutor's mind at ease for working toward a reasonable settlement of the charges.

Categories: