Heinous crime dur to curable medical condition. Forgive?

DUE to medical condition…durr…

Simple scenario: A really horrible crime gets done. Use your imagination because I’m in no mood to write up a titilating scenario. But let’s just say it’s a disturbingly aggravated event ending in a protracted homicide.

Suspect is nabbed, confesses all and has no remorse at all. Just for grins, an MRI is performed and some kind of weevil or something is found in the guy’s brain. Interestingly, the evil weevil is irritating a part of the brain known to control decision-making, behaviors, morality, etc. A number of well-respected neurologists all agree the bug could well have caused the abnormal behavior, and that its removal would restore the guy to “normal.” Weevil is removed and normal brain function is restored. Suspect is crushed by what he’s done, and can only say, “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time.” The brain damage is not permanent.

Do you want the guy to pay for the crime?
Do you give the guy a pass?

Explanation of your answer would make things more interesting.

Charles Whitman, an actual case to consider.

The medical problem could have caused the act or it could have just aggravated something already inside him. If he has had no other red flags, then probably just keep a pretty close eye on him. And court order mental health treatment, because he’s going to need it after what he’s done anyway. Then hopefully if he’s a risk in the future they will catch that before something else bad happens.

If there’s no legal precedent yet in place, I can’t say what the justice system would do to him. But morally, he’s in the clear.

As a general rule, the justice system assumes we always have free will to choose to commit a crime or not. However, in some cases, we allow things like “the insanity defense” because the person was temporarily cognitively incapacitated. On the other hand, folks like sociopaths often have a cause in their brain and/or genes, but they don’t get the same mercy. There, they know that what they are doing is considered wrong by society, but don’t care. So, “It seemed like the right thing to do at the time” would need to considered in court as to whether he recognized his wrongdoing or not.

So, option 2/something else. If we released everybody who had extenuating circumstances (brain damage, poor childhood, etc.) then it would be bad for our justice system. But we still need to consider circumstances; they’re potential partial causes, not get out of jail free. Based on the information given, I would find it hard to come to one concrete decision without some clarification on the quote.

Well without knowing the horrible crime, its hard to know whether we should let him off. If his crime had a lasting impact on people he may have murdered, raped, etc., then he’s going to prison in my opinion, weevil or not.

While it may be fine to say “oh, the weevil made him do it”, I’d need to see some pretty convincing proof that it just made him nutty all of the sudden and that it wasn’t obvious to him or those immediately around him that he was building up to the horrible crime. Even then, he might get a somewhat reduced sentence, but I doubt it.

I’m sure the asshole from Aurora, CO who shot up the theater will have mitigating circumstance that he tries to use to lessen his sentence, and I really hope the jury doesn’t fall for it.

I have been thinking about this lately. Not about evil-making weevils, but the general idea of mental illness taking away free will.

I believe it does. I think the psychopath is like that because of brain malfunction. I think most violent criminals probably have an impulse disorder and some type of mood/personality disorder. I think they have likely been screwed up their whole lives and their untreated problems just snowballed. The hyperactive, rebellious little boy who can’t not eat the marshmellow left on the table grows up getting his butt whipped and kicked, which then turns him into an angry anti-social adult. The weevil was there with him from the very beginning, and it just grew fatter and fatter until the inevitable happened.

But I don’t know where “aw, you poor thing!” and “you’re a monster!” ends and begins. There has to be a place for responsibility, right? Because if the bad guys are actually all sick, then there are no bad guys, right? We don’t have the level of sympathy and compassion required to look at this question honestly.

I can’t see why the kind of crime would matter. To take an extreme example, if someone suddenly becomes batshit insane to the last degree, why would he be more responsible if his insanity results in killing people rather than in stealing popsicles?

Assuming the same cause, the result should be the same regardless of the crime : not taken into account, reduced sentenced or free to go.
By the way I voted to let him go because your hypothetical is clear cut : you have a regular law-abiding Joe, he gets a disease, this disease makes him a criminal, the disease is cured and he becomes again a regular law-abiding Joe. So, the crime is caused solely by the disease. The crime is in fact an act of god, sort of, for which nobody is responsible.

Obviously, in real life, it’s going to be more complicated than that : nobody will know for sure to what extent the weevil actually impaired him, in particular, at least not until we understand how the brain is working much better than we currently do.

Prison serves a few purposes that are (IMO) legitimate:

  1. It confines the criminal, protecting the rest of us. This purpose wouldn’t be served for the OP’s criminal, since that criminal is no longer a danger.
  2. It punishes the criminal, persuading the criminal that he or she should go and sin no more, lest there be further prison time. This purpose wouldn’t be served for the OP’s criminal, since he’s not gonna sin no more anyway.
  3. It acts as an example to future criminals. This is the only possible purpose that could be served for the OP’s criminal: are other folks at risk for the evil weevil, and if so, would their evil weevils recognize the undesirability of prison time? If the answer to either question is “no”, then scratch this purpose as well. If the answer to both is “yes,” though, I’d still probably say that you can’t justly serve this purpose, since it punishes the criminal to deter the weevil.

For normal sociopaths, though, all three purposes can be served by imprisoning a sociopath. The sociopath isn’t curable (currently, anyway), so imprisonment protects us. The sociopath might decide that prison sucks and will try to stay out of it by not committing crime. And other sociopaths might see the danger of prison and keep their noses clean.

This is exactly the type of thing that temporary insanity laws are supposed to deal with. It’s usually an affirmative defense. You can’t just say, “I was feeling a bit crazy that day.” It is more along the lines of medical testimony that the evil weevil prevented you from knowing what you were doing was wrong, and now that the weevil is removed, you aren’t a danger. That is very different than something like, you’re insane and will never be cured, so need to be locked away where you can’t hurt anybody else.

There are cases of individuals with brain tumors committing horrible acts, and then returning to normal after the tumor is removed. The law views that as different than somebody voluntarily taking a substance, which alters their state so they commit horrible acts. A recent example in the paper here was somebody arrested for drunk driving, but then found not guilty (or not prosecuted, I believe) when it was found that the erratic driving was caused by problems related to diabetes. (Whether the diabetic problems were due to the individuals negligence in caring for their condition is a different, but related, discussion.)

So, how about paedophilia. Brian tumour causes paedophilia (twice).

Or crimes caused by a medical treatment. Parkinsons medication can cause uncontrollable compulsive behaviour, including stealing, gambling and sexual offenses.

Plenty of case law to work from.


I think there’s a big difference between mental illness and a physical cause of a problem like a brain tumor. In either case though, there is always the question of motive on the part of the perpetrator. Did they act knowing what they were doing was wrong, with the capability to keep from committing the crime? That part is extremely difficult to determine. When it comes to a physical cause like a brain tumor, at least we know the disease is real, and potentially curable. But the questions remain open in that case.

I selected Release the guy, but keep an eye on him for x years just to be sure. But my intention would be Don’t jail the guy, keep him under observation in a controlled environment.

It’s times like this when I wish I’d have paid attention in college so I could have gone into neuroscience instead of chimney sweeping. To the extent it is an organ that controls perceptions and processes appropriate responses to one’s environment–using obscenely complex soups of chemicals, electrical impulses and physical structure–every thought and voluntary act is a product of a physical cause. That’s not a very fun dinner topic though because it is a pretty strong denouncement of the concept of “free will” and by extention, morality.

Incognito by Dan Eagleman tries to make a case for eliminating the insanity defense. He argues that none of us are in complete control of our brain, and as such, criminal justice shouldn’t be based on how culpable someone is.