Evaluations for High Stakes Sentencing: Capital and Juvenile Murder Cases

Evaluations for High Stakes Sentencing: Capital and Juvenile Murder Cases


20 Hours | 20 CEs (CEUs)



Program Description

This self-paced professional training program on Evaluations for High Stakes Sentencing is presented by Dr. Mark Cunningham.

Landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases such as Woodson, Jurek, Atkins, and Miller mandated individualized sentencing when the death penalty is sought or a defendant is facing a life-without-parole for an offense committed as a juvenile. Mental health professionals are routinely called upon to assist in illuminating the associated considerations of moral culpability and specific deterrence. The course is divided into four modules, each focusing on a high stakes sentencing context or issue:

  1. Evaluation for capital mitigation
  2. Capital violence risk assessment for prison
  3. Evaluation of intellectual disability
  4. Evaluation in juvenile murder.

For each type of evaluation, Dr. Cunningham describes the conceptual underpinnings, evaluation procedures, relevant research literature, and presents an analysis/integration of case data. He provides extensive illustrations of how the findings can be effectively communicated in reports and through slide-assisted testimony.

This program is a self-paced Professional Training Program. The fee for this program is $500 and includes all materials and worksheets.  In addition, case studies and other case-relevant materials are provided for training purposes. Throughout the training program, there are quizzes that must be passed with a 70% in order to advance in the course. Once the course is completed participants will complete a course evaluation and then will be able to print their certificate of completion.

Intended audience

This course is primarily intended for mental health or legal professionals, though a more diverse audience will also find the concepts, issues, and procedures of high stakes evaluations stimulating and thought-provoking. This course is for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level clinicians.


Upon completion of this training program the participant will be able to:

Evaluation for capital mitigation
• Describe the contrasting theories of the State and defense at capital sentencing and how these are operationalized in evidence and argument
• Describe moral culpability and its relationship to choice
• Describe the procedures in conducting an evaluation of capital mitigation
• Describe the role of generational family history in capital mitigation
• Review a social history and specify the adverse developmental factors corresponding to five primary arenas
• Describe the advantages of findings-based and narrative-based reports
• Describe five types of demonstrative exhibits to accompany testimony

Violence risk assessment for prison
• Describe four methodologies for violence risk assessment
• Describe the role of base rates in violence risk assessment for prison
• Describe the various sources for rates of serious prison violence and specify the primary inmate-specific correlates
• Describe the primary sources of error in capital violence risk assessments for prison
• Describe the comparative risk for prison violence posed by capital offenders as opposed to other inmates
• Describe limitations in the abilities of juries to forecast future prison violence by capital offenders

Evaluations of intellectual disability (ID)
• Describe the conceptual basis for the exclusion of persons with ID from death-sentencing
• Describe the two sources for the primary diagnostic criteria for ID and their common elements
• Describe the evolution of diagnostic criteria for ID from DSM-IV-TR to DSM-5
• Describe three important psychometric considerations in interpreting IQ scores
• Describe four methodologies for assessing adaptive skills and the cautions associated with each
• Describe important elements of reports of capital evaluations of ID
• Describe the types of demonstrative exhibits that may accompany testimony regarding ID at Atkins hearings

Miller evaluations
• Describe the four primary factors in brain maturation
• Describe how brain immaturity impacts decision-making and susceptibility to peer influences
• Describe adverse developmental factors that may impact functional maturity
• Describe the role of post-18 youthfulness as a sentencing consideration.
• Describe how youthfulness limits the predictive significance of teen offending
• Describe correlates of parole recidivism and sources of base rates
• Describe parole planning factors that reduce recidivism
• Describe the organization of a findings-based report in a Miller case evaluation

About Dr. Mark Cunningham


Dr. Mark Cunningham is a clinical and forensic psychologist whose practice is national in scope. He is board-certified in clinical psychology and in forensic psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), and is licensed in 17 states. Dr. Cunningham earned his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Oklahoma State University and did postdoctoral study at the Yale University School of Medicine. He is a nationally recognized scholar and expert witness regarding capital sentencing determinations. He has provided expert testimony at capital sentencing in more than 200 cases and authored over 60 peer-reviewed articles, chapters, case studies, and commentary. Dr. Cunningham authored a text on best practices in evaluations for capital sentencing. He has served on the editorial boards of three journals and has been an ad hoc reviewer for 19 others. The international John Maddox Prize recognized Dr. Cunningham with a commendation. His scholarship and practice have also been honored with the National Register of Health Service Psychologists A. M. Wellner, Ph.D. Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Psychological Association Award for Distinguished Contribution to Research in Public Policy, the Texas Psychological Association Award for Outstanding Contribution to Science, and election as a Fellow of the American Psychological Association.

Conceptual overview
– Sentencing considerations
– Moral culpability
– Specific deterrence
– Capital mitigation
– Violence risk in prison
– Intellectual disability
– Juvenile murderers
– Psycholegal issue
– Case law
– Conceptual understandings
– Procedures of evaluation
– Relevant research
– Models of report writing
– Use of slides in testimony

Continuing Education Credit

This Distance Learning Course is a Home Study Training Program. To earn CE’s, you will have to complete the course quizzes and evaluation for this Home Study Distance Learning Course. No partial credit is available. For this course, you will need to pass the course quizzes with 70% correct and complete a course evaluation form to earn the certificate. You can take the test as many times as necessary to pass. Participants will earn 20 CE hours for completion once they have completed these requirements. Each participant will be able to print their CE certificate immediately after completing and passing the post-test and evaluation.

Board Approvals: APA, CPA, NBCC, ASWB. Click here for state and other regional board approvals.

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