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August 24, 2011

"Psychopathy and Culpability: How Responsible is the Psychopath for Criminal Wrongdoing?"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Professor Reid Fontaine (and two co-authors), which is now available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Recent research into the psychological and neurobiological underpinnings of psychopathy has raised the question of whether, or to what degree, psychopaths should be considered morally and criminally responsible for their actions.  In this article we review the current empirical literature on psychopathy, focusing particularly on deficits in moral reasoning, and consider several potential conclusions that could be drawn based on this evidence.  Our analysis of the empirical evidence on psychopathy suggests that while psychopaths do not meet the criteria for full criminal responsibility, they nonetheless retain some criminal responsibility.  We conclude, by introducing the notion of rights as correlative that even if psychopaths were to be fully non-responsible, it would still be warranted to impose some form of civil commitment.

August 24, 2011 at 11:30 AM | Permalink


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It would be fair to say, I think, that the entire notion of culpability in the criminal justice system is a pre-scientific tool for separating people who are more psychopathic from those who are less psychopathic with the specific intent of punishing the psychopaths more severely. Psychopathy is pretty much the definition of culpablility.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 26, 2011 6:36:37 PM

The lawyer is not responsible for his stupidity. It has been caused by the mentally crippling effects of law school.

So I am going to repeat this, as I have over and over.

Prof. Dougie Berman was three years old. Yes, he argued, but using 11th grade vocabulary words that adults had to look up. Everyone who came across him predicted, Dougie is headed for Harvard law school, and will be a great professor because of his native ability. Now, Dougie did not lay back, and wait. He studied 80 hours a week from kindergarten on. As a result of the combination of his native ability and his hard work, he excelled academically, and fulfilled everyone's predictions, including those of his fellow three year olds in daycare. The achievement upon which his endowed chair are based are half from native ability, and hard from hard work. Is it now fair to say, half of his achievement are coming form native ability, not of his choosing? Therefore the salary that comes with the endowed chair should be cut in half because half his achievement are not "his fault."

The psychopath has been severely punished since infancy, and cannot learn empathy, future planning, obeying the rules, or any delay in gratification. He cares only about his immediate gratification. And he has superior social skills, getting people to do for him things they do not want to do. His functioning is superior in many areas. He is running a lucrative business in his teens, for example. The death penalty has greater justification in psychopathy than in its absence. He is more dangerous, and the death penalty or other incapacitation is a must.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 27, 2011 12:49:50 AM

A beautiful model's time is worth $1000 an hour in the competitive fashion job market. She does not spend 80 hours a week working on her beauty. She exercises an hour a day. So most of the value of her salary is purely from inherited, immutable, physical appearance. Should her fee be reduced because it is "not her fault," that she is so beautiful?

I am paralyzed from the neck down from a birth defect I did not cause. I enter an Olympic 40 meter sprint race. Talented Olympians finish the race in a few seconds. I have crawled 2 inches in that time. I think I should get the Gold Medal because my performance is "not my fault."

I am going to keep doing these examples until the lawyer stops trying to excuse sociopaths, and starts advocating enhanced sentencing because they are more dangerous than other felons.

Why would the lawyer advocate on behalf of people who are charming, have superior social skills, and are pure evil? They commit a lot of crimes that generate government sinecures all around It is in bad faith, to generate costs. Each sociopath is a mini natural disaster costing $millions in social service and law enforcement costs. And to whom do the $millions go?

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Aug 28, 2011 9:30:26 AM

@Supremacy Claus:
And what about Stephen Hawking?
Are we to judge based on what we have been given inherently, or should we judge based on actions and choices.

Certainly a psychopath can cause a substantial amount of harm. But, if you start to enhance punishments for people based on bad genetics, you are doing the same thing the Nazis did prior to WW2: eugenics.

So, while I agree that we shouldn't let psychopaths off as easy as we do, I think we should not create enhanced punishments for bad genetics.

Posted by: Fort Worth Lawyer | Feb 13, 2012 6:01:04 PM

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