Thursday, August 31, 2006

Violent Crime is a Symptom of Insanity

This entry contains brief but graphic descriptions of non-fictional violence and will be distasteful to some readers.

A particularly ugly criminal case is being tried in Stockholm. The defendant is a bodybuilder of 27 with a steroid habit, sundry other drug habits and a record for violent crime. One Saturday night in May, in his own home, he murdered his twelve-year-old step-daughter with an absurd number of knife stabs. He then spent two hours wrestling with, raping and knifing the girl's thirteen-year-old friend. Finally the knife broke and he fell asleep. Despite many wounds, the surviving girl then escaped the apartment and called the police.

According to both the prosecution and the defense, the man killed his step-daughter for the brilliant reason that he didn't want her to tell anyone that he had raped her friend, as he wished to do. The murderer himself claims to remember nothing about the night in question.

Committing an extremely messy murder in order to cover up a planned rape, all in one's own apartment in a densely populated housing area, is hardly the actions of a sane man. Such hyper-violent and unbelievably stupid behaviour is typical of a steroid psychosis brought on by alcohol. Yet the trial is all about whether the murderer was sane at the time or not. Duh, say I.

Questions of the perpetrators' sanity in cases of violent crime always have me shaking my head. To my mind, the ability to commit a highly violent crime is, in itself, a symptom of insanity for all societal intents and purposes. Insanity is defined by violent behaviour among other things. And as we have no sure methods of curing such insanity, we must simply keep violent madmen locked up and sedated indefinitely for safety's sake. Whether this is called a jail sentence or a one-way commitment to a mental hospital is to my mind irrelevant. But that anyone wishes to suggest that the murderer currently on trial might have been sane makes me worry about that person's mental health.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And why stop at violence? Why not agree with the Soviet theory that all criminality is insanity?

What I'm trying to say is that we should be much more careful about swinging the insanity charges around. Especially in this case, where it seems far more likely that the perpetrator was fucked up on steroids than actually insane. Being drunk, high, on a steroid-rage, having stupid preferences, or being just stupid in general, won't get you off on insanity pleas under Swedish law (unless I'm badly mistaken), and that's how it should be IMO.

(That laws almost universally assume free will, a highly untenable philosophical proposition, is another matter.)

And about the potential for violence? Bah, I say! We all have that to a larger or lesser degree, coded in our genetic make-up and encouraged or partially suppressed by our cultural and personal mores.

/AkhĂ´rahil

01 September, 2006 13:23  
Blogger Karen said...

In regards to "anonymous"'s mention of the being drunk, high, steroid rage not getting you off, I believe (and I could be mistaken), that there was a case here in Canada a few years ago where a guy did get off on the argument that he was drunk. Don't think it was a murder case (assault perhaps?) but it's been a while since it was in the news. I remember that every woman I knew was outraged (I believe the case involved his spouse/common law/girlfriend). I'll have to do some research on that...

01 September, 2006 14:45  
Anonymous bernarda said...

Attributing motives or even extenuating circumstances is not very good policy as far as I can see.

What happened happened, whatever the "reasons". It would in fact seem safer to have a lighter sentence for a "rational" offender than for a "crazy" offender.

Very, perhaps most, often, the "rational" offender is not a real continuing threat, but the "crazy" offender probably is.

Here is another case of "insanity" if you will. This time by people with official responsibility for the victim.

http://news.enquirer.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060829/NEWS01/308300001

Were these foster parents "crazy"?

01 September, 2006 17:34  
Blogger Martin said...

Akkie, I believe there was some discussion of this in a comment thread a few months ago. (Or was that on the SKOM messageboard?)

My position is utilitarian: I don't care much whether the criminal can be held philosophically responsible for the crime, and I see no point in society avenging itself on the criminal. My main priority is to minimise the risk of repeat offenses. (And many with me believe that jail time is highly counterproductive in this respect: it encourages repeat offences and a criminal career.)

A really drunk person is for society's practical purposes insane. And people who get drunk and become violent rarely choose to do so only once. So we should keep them from drinking.

In the case of roid rage murders, we have the similar knowledge that certain individuals have taken steroids and gone nuts. This makes them a societal liability. We should make sure they don't do it again.

Criminal "justice", to me, should be seen as societal hygiene, health care and risk management.

01 September, 2006 20:21  
Blogger Martin said...

Bernarda, anyone who trusses a three-year old up with packing tape and leaves him alone on the floor for 36 hours is by definition insane. I don't mean their psychiatric status, and there is no such thing as metaphysical evil.

To me, the case you pointed us to (which has a close parallel in the Swedish case of little murdered Bobby) is a good example of how violence and callousness above a certain level must be seen as clear evidence that the perpetrator cannot be trusted among the free members of society.

01 September, 2006 20:31  
Anonymous bernarda said...

Martin, I am in complete agreement with you point of view of "social hygiene".

I have had serious disagreements with death penalty fans when I have maintained that a bad driver who kills someone is basically no different than any other sort of murderer.

One of the things I base my argument on is public health. In the U.S. about 43,000 people per year are killed by bad drivers.

All other homicides are about 15,000 in the U.S. As public policy, it would be more effective to try to reduce the former.

That is not to say that one should not try to reduce the latter. But reduction of the auto "accidents" for me seems to be more immediately effective.

01 September, 2006 23:56  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Lock him up and toss the key.

02 September, 2006 06:11  
Blogger Lord Runolfr said...

Of course he's not sane. Furthermore, it doesn't matter if he's sane. Why should insanity be considered a defense? That's what this is about, isn't it? Not guilty by reason of insanity? It's not like the person is any less a menace to society because of their insanity.

I'm all for locking him up and throwing away the key. Actually, since he already has a record of violent crime, I have nothing against the death penalty for him. I'm against death for any first offense, but someone with a track record of violent anti-social behavior needs to be removed from the gene pool.

On an unrelated note: please post some contact info that we can use to send you articles for Skeptic's Circle 44.

15 September, 2006 16:09  

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