Neuroscience, PTSD and Sentencing Mitigation
33 Cardozo L. Rev. (2012)
55 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2012
Date Written: 2012
Like other mental disorders, PTSD has been advanced in criminal law to support sentencing mitigation. Unlike other disorders, however, PTSD traces back to an event that is considered the cause of the disorder, known as the stressor. Stressors can range from car accidents to gang violence to the commission of a crime. This article examines whether lawmakers should consider the nature of the stressor when deciding whether to use PTSD as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
Courts and legislatures generally have not embraced use of PTSD in sentencing mitigation except in cases where it resulted from combat duty or domestic violence. This article questions that exceptionalism. In particular, limiting PTSD consideration to these contexts can no longer be justified by concerns that a defendant is faking the syndrome. Advances in neuroscience increasingly make it possible to measure the physiological changes that occur in a person’s brain after experiencing a trauma, raising the prospect of establishing the validity of a wider range of PTSD claims. In that event, the distinction between the combat and domestic violence stressors, as opposed to other causes of PTSD, is unwarranted in terms of the prevailing justifications for punishment. The issue, then, is whether other rationales can justify limiting PTSD consideration to certain stressors. Accordingly, lawmakers should acknowledge that other normative concerns may influence our treatment of PTSD in sentencing and develop more neutral limiting principles to determine when PTSD can mitigate a criminal sentence.
Keywords: Neuroscience, Criminal Law, Sentencing, PTSD
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