Criminal Liability Essay Examples
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Across the international divide, there continues to be a great debate on the criminal liability of mentally ill or unstable people who commit crime. The opinion is divided right at the middle with some calling for the full force of the law to be applied to mentally ill persons who commit crimes and others calling for relaxation of the law when dealing with such persons. In regard to the second group of people who claim for the relaxation of the law when dealing with these people, the primary recommendation is that the mentally ill and unstable should be hospitalized in special institutions that teach them how to deal with their mental condition and overcome any crime desires and urgencies. This recommendation or argument is however derided by some who argue that there is no way mentally unstable persons who have already engaged in crime can be treated or rehabilitated and then be allowed back into the community without the incursion of a certain level of risk for public safety. Of more importance, however, is whether persons who have been officially diagnosed with mental illnesses are criminally liable for the crimes that they have committed. This paper will use a case example Damien who has been diagnosed mental illness that interferes with his ability to exercise self-control and whether he is criminally liable for a set of murders that he committed.
One of the elements of the law that can be used to determine the criminal liability here is the diminished capacity argument. Clearly, it has already been established that Damien suffers from a mental condition that affects his judgment and consequently, the issue of full liability must be assessed. Ultimately the concept of diminished capacity comes into discussion. This concept is actually recognized in about 15 states in America.
The diminished capacity concept essentially allows the admission of a psychiatric examination or testimony to establish that the accused suffers from a documented mental illness or disturbance that diminishes his or her capacity to form or construct the required criminal intent.
Generally, the diminished capacity recognizes that every defendant possesses the right to argue and prove that he or she has the incapability of forming the criminal intent that is necessarily for the offense for which he or she has been accused of. This concept therefore in one way or another creates a compromise between full liability for a crime or a decision of not zero guilt by virtue of mental illness. However, in some of the states where diminished capacity is recognized, it is nevertheless confined to cases of intentional murder. In addition, some states proclaim that defendants may still be liable for second-degree murder and may thus be convicted on such grounds because second degree murder does not require premeditation. Under this stipulation, it might be argued that Damien is partly liable for his crimes. First of all, Damien’s crime were not in any way pre-meditated. In fact, none of them crimes he committed, that is the killing of Michael and Cheryl had any element of prior planning and mediation. Rather, the two crimes were committed at the heat of the moment. It was only after a row with Michael that Damien ultimately ended up striking him. In regards to Cheryl, it was after an argument with her and after her constant pestering about his knowledge about the deaths of Michael and his daughter that he lost it and grabbed a bread knife and murdered her. This argument could be used in a court where it could be argued that Damien essentially had diminished capacity to construct criminal intent to engage in the crimes he committed. Even when Michael initially found his daughter dead, all he did was to merely confront Damien and it was only later that it turned into heated row, most probably because of Damien’s loss of self-control due to his mental illness. If Damien had a fully and normally functioning mind, the two individuals would have probably discussed the issue amicably and no blood would have been shed.
It is also important to note that diminished capacity does not automatically mean that one is exonerated from all guilty charges. In fact, there are several situations where persons who have been allowed to argue and prove diminished capacity have not been let to go scot free by the courts. Rather, the aspect of diminished capacity has only aided in the reduction of the court sentencing or the punishment that these individuals received. As mentioned earlier, the basis of the diminished capacity is the argument that some people, because of a mental condition, disease or mental impairment do have the capability to reach the mental state that is required for the commitment of a particular crime.
Therefore, in the case of murder, such as the one committed by Damien, a point of argument could be that Damien was incapable of intending to murder or to cause this outcome in Michael and Cheryl. Because of this, what he did at most was to cause death recklessly. If Michael’s defendant are of the opinion that there is no way that his mental condition will exonerate him fully, they could push for a manslaughter charge rather than first-degree murder or even second degree murder. A case in point is California vs. Dan White where the defendants’ attorneys were able to successful argue for diminished capacity arguing that their client who had been accused of first degree murder of the city of San Francisco’s mayor and a councilman did not have the mental capacity required to premeditate to cause murder. They were able to reduce their client’s charge successfully to a manslaughter.
Another example is a ruling made in United States v. Green whereby in this case, the Ninth Circuit court essentially made a ruling that the trial court had full discretion to decide the sentence given to the offender after a successful argument for diminished capacity. In this case, the defendant had been accused of bank robbery and had in fact already pled guilty to these accusations but had pleaded for diminished capacity.
However, not all cases where diminished capacity is argued result in the reduction of the charge or the sentence. A case in point is People v. Gorshen whereby the defendant had pleaded not guilty to a murder charge. However, he was convicted of second-degree murder. He however appealed citing unsolicited physiatrist testimony that had in fact been accepted by the trial court and that established that he did not have intention to take human life and that his actions were not based on malice aforethought. His arguments were however rejected by the Court, and the judgment was sustained.
At the same time, however, an individual might commit acts of crime to cover up for what he or she has already done., For example, one does not need to be suffering from paranoia to realize a situation where he will be caught for his actions and, therefore, decides to take action to nullify the situation. From the details of the case, it is revealed that Damien only hit Michel when he threatened to call the police. This can be seen as seen as aforethought malice. The same applies to Cheryl who Damien killed after her continued pestering following his extremely defensive nature when asked about the murder.
A majority of the criminal law doctrines stipulate that individuals are only full culpable for crimes if they act with volition and intent. In fact, a majority of court decisions rely on the aspect of control when determining both culpability, as well as punishment. Many criminal law experts argue that if the actions of one are out his control or arise from a proven inability to exercise self-control, then that individual cannot be held liable for a crime that they commit. It is very important to distinguish these two statements especially the second one. The inability to exercise self-control is a mental condition officially recognized by health and psychology experts. It is not simply the failure to exercise self-control but is rather the inability to do so. Since Damien has been proven as mentally incapable of exercising mental control, this could make him not culpable or liable for the crimes that he committed. However, this is once again subject to different interpretation by different courts. This is because some courts many rule that although one might have the inability to exercise self-control, there is that one split second moment when one realizes that what they are doing is wrong.
However, there are several things that might not work in favor of Damien, and that might in one way or another eventually contribute to him being held fully liable for his crimes. This is in regards to the actions that he took after committing the crimes. After he had murdered Michael, he ultimately realized what he had done and instead of trying to solve the problem through required legal means, he tried to cover up his actions. This might be interpreted by the prosecuting attorneys and the judges that he knew what he was doing at the time of the murder, and this why after committing it, he tried to dispose of their bodies,
The case of Damien is indeed ambiguous. The liability of the defendant for the crimes he has committed is bound to be an issue of hot contention where there are those who are bound to argue that he is not in any way liable for his heinous crimes because he suffers from a mental illness that prevents him or that makes him incapable of exercising self-control. One the other hand, the nature of the events, in this case, show that things might not be so black and white, and Damien might indeed have had a motive. The paper has shown that one of the legal doctrines that could perhaps be utilized, in this case, is the diminished capacity. In this case, however, the diminished capacity is only likely to reduce the liability of Damien for his actions but not fully exonerate him. In fact, from the analysis of the facts of the case, it can be construed that Damien is only partly liable for his crimes and, therefore, in a court of law, he should not be charged with first degree murder but should instead be charged with either second-degree murder or manslaughter.
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