Master of Arts
Date of Defense
Current law allows certain criminal defendants -- not including psychopaths -- an insanity defense. Both Utilitarian and Retributivist rationales can be cited for the defense. This essay argues that affording a defense like the insanity defense to criminal psychopaths is justified on much the same rationales. Integral to the psychopathy syndrome is a set of neurocognitive deficits that render psychopaths significantly less deterrable than non-psychopaths: first, psychopaths' relative inability to recognize when a behavior pattern that once netted benefits now nets costs, and to change their behavior accordingly; second, their relative inability to form the mental associations between an aversive experience and the events which herald it; and third, their relative insusceptibility to fear, which results in the dread of further punishment being much reduced in them. Psychopaths are also less subject to general deterrence, because the psychopath's typical inability to conjure and be moved by emotional mental imagery blunts the warning effect of other offenders' run-ins with the legal system. Psychopathy undercuts the Retributivist rationale for punishment because, due to their characteristic empathy deficit, psychopaths lack the concept of normativity, and so are not morally responsible agents. Those who are not morally responsible do not deserve criminal blame. It is therefore wrong to inflict criminal punishments on psychopaths.
Richeson, Christian Francis, ""An Insanity Defense Should Be Available to Psychopaths"" (2011). Theses. 185.