Predators and Punishment

Psychology, Public Policy and Law, Forthcoming

40 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2011

Date Written: May 31, 2011


Psychopathy is characterized as an emotional disorder tightly woven with persistent antisocial behavior. Prevailing legal doctrine and social norms hold psychopaths responsible for their conduct and punishment legitimately flows to psychopaths who violate the law. Recent scholarship, however, has challenged that view by claiming the emotional and cognitive deficits inherent in psychopathy should preclude culpability for some psychopaths. This view necessarily imposes a substantial modification on how the law conceptualizes culpability that is ultimately unwise. Legal responsibility entails the capacity for rationality and psychopaths comport with the established meanings of rationality as understood by the law and the communal intuitions which guide it. Extant scholarship indicates psychopaths are rationale agents and can be fairly subjected to punishment for conduct which violates the law. The law should reject efforts to include psychopaths within its excuse jurisprudence.

Keywords: psychopathy, criminal responsibility, punishment, psychology

Suggested Citation

Erickson, Steven K. and Vitacco, Michael J., Predators and Punishment (May 31, 2011). Psychology, Public Policy and Law, Forthcoming , Available at SSRN:

Michael J. Vitacco

Mendota Mental Health Institute ( email )

301 Troy Drive
Madison, WI 53704
United States

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