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Insanity Defense - Psychopaths And Sociopaths

antisocial indicated disorder personality

When most people hear about the insanity defense, they automatically assume that it can be used applied to people commonly referred to as psychopaths and sociopaths. While traditionally there has been a small degree of difference between these two classifications, the American Psychiatric Associations most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual—Fourth Edition ("DSMIV") groups sociopathy and psychopathy under the heading "antisocial personality disorder." The DSM-IV lays out a limited and concise set of diagnostic criteria on which to base the diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder.

According to the DSM-IV, antisocial personality disorder is characterized by pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others occurring since age 18, as indicated by three (or more) of the following: (1) failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest; (2) deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure; (3) impulsivity or failure to plan ahead; (4) irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults; (5) reckless disregard for safety of self or others; (6) consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or to honor financial obligations; (7) lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to, or rationalizing, having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.

However it is defined, many in the legal community doubt whether the insanity defense covers this kind of behavior at all. The ALI's Model Penal Code test of insanity states that "the terms mental disease or defect do not include an abnormality that is manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct." In other words, the criteria laid down by the DSMIV for antisocial personality disorder would not allow for a claim of insanity under the Model Penal Code, the most widely used insanity test, or in other insanity tests used by states. Thus, sociopaths and psychopaths, while perceived as insane by most people, could likely not use the insanity defense as a defense in a court of law.

For this reason, most celebrated serial killers such as John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, as well as persons whose mental stability seems to be of a questionable nature, such as Ted Kaczynski, have seen their insanity pleas fail or have never used the defense. In fact, in recent years, only Hinckley and Bobbitt are among celebrated cases who have used the defense successfully. For criminals with antisocial personality disorder, the insanity plea simply does not apply.

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