Criminal Responsibility and Psychopathy: Do Psychopaths Have a Right to Excuse?
University of Missouri School of Law
December 16, 2013
Handbook on Psychopathy and Law (Oxford Series on Neuroscience, Law, and Philosophy) Kent A. Kiehl & Walter P. Sinnott-Armstrong, eds., New York: Oxford University Press (2013)
University of Missouri School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-16
This contribution to the Handbook on Psychopathy and Law argues that the characteristics of persons with psychopathy that support the strongest case for exemption from criminal responsibility also undermine a right to excuse. Whether the criminal law should hold them responsible may be settled by consequentialist considerations, which, I argue, speak in favor of criminal responsibility.
Part I attempts to establish the strongest prima facie case for legally excusing persons with psychopathy. It does so by addressing two distinct questions: First, should the law require moral competency (the capacity to respond to distinctly moral reasons) as a requirement of responsibility, or should the minimal ability to follow the law’s commands be sufficient? Second, do criminal law doctrines, in fact, contemplate morally competent agents or, rather, agents who merely possess rational capacities sufficient for following rules? The prima facie argument concludes that the law should require and does contemplate moral competence for criminal responsibility, thus implying a prima facie reason to excuse persons with extreme psychopathy.
Part II counters this prima facie case. It argues that treating the psychopath as criminally responsible does not harm his interests. Punishment’s association with moral blame distinguishes it from civil commitment, and a psychopath’s well-being, whether defined by his subjective experience or objective factors, is not impaired by being the target of moral blame. As such, the psychopath lacks the interest grounding the right to excuse. Finally, pragmatic and other moral considerations speak strongly in favor of holding psychopaths legally responsible regardless of whether they are, in fact, morally responsible for wrongdoing.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 54
Keywords: moral responsibility, criminal responsibility, psychopathy
Date posted: December 17, 2013