American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 53, Issue 3 (2017)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


The question of a criminal defendant’s risk for future offending may be of interest to courts in a variety of contexts. Courts may request or consider information from forensic mental health professionals regarding risk assessment, which is the formal appraisal of the probability that an offender will reoffend or commit particular acts of violence in the future.1 Risk assessment is relevant in criminal contexts such as capital sentencing, criminal responsibility, and commitment of sexually violent predators; it also arises in civil contexts including civil commitment, workplace disability, child custody, and child protection.2 In some instances, risk assessment also may be done in cases involving risk of harm to identifiable third parties.3 Despite its growing use in the United States legal system in recent years, violence risk assessment has historically come under critical scrutiny in U.S. courts. Such concern about the practice of risk assessment and its evidentiary value is appropriate, considering the consequences that can be associated with a conclusion that an individual is high risk. Such consequences might include, inter alia, longer sentences or lost custody of a child.4