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What does the genetic nature of psychopathy mean for criminal guilt?

The image of a psychopath strikes fear into the hearts of many people in Rockville. The idea that someone would do whatever he or she wants, regardless of who gets hurt, is indeed frightening, but there is some question as to whether psychopaths can be held totally responsible for their actions. After a recent article documented psychopathic tendencies in children as young as three, it calls into question whether a psychopath's actions can truly be helped.

Scientists who have spent years studying psychopaths have noted that those who have been diagnosed with this condition's amygdalas don't function at the same level as non-sociopathic people. In addition, they have much lower levels of cortisol, both of which prevent them from feeling shame, fear and the other emotions that keep most people from committing violent crimes.

But if someone can't control his or her actions or doesn't realize what he or she is doing is wrong, is it just to treat them the same as a hardened criminal?

Although researchers have found that psychopaths, even from a young age, may have different physiology that prevents them from controlling their negative behaviors, there may be treatment options available. Scientists are still looking for techniques to treat children who demonstrate psychopathic or prepsychopathic tendencies in an effort to prevent possible future crimes. Unfortunately, there is no way to ensure that everyone diagnosed with sociopathy will be treated.

So what does this mean? When someone in Maryland hears that a violent crime has been committed, they may immediately believe a sociopath is responsible. The association with crime, violence and brutality is intrinsically linked to this condition and people who are diagnosed psychopaths or engage in psychopathic behavior will have a much more difficult time than someone without the condition in convincing a jury and judge that they are innocent.

Source: The New York Times, "Can You Call a 9-Year-Old a Psychopath?" Jennifer Kahn, May 11, 2012

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Law Offices of
James N. Papirmeister, Esq.

Law Offices of James N. Papirmeister, Esq.
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As Published in Washingtonian Magazine | Washington's Best Legal Minds | 2013