Psychopathy and Criminal Responsibility


This article considers whether psychopaths should be held criminally responsible. After describing the positive law of criminal responsibility in general and as it applies to psychopaths, it suggests that psychopaths lack moral rationality and that severe psychopaths should be excused from crimes that violate the moral rights of others. Alternative forms of social control for dangerous psychopaths, such as involuntary civil commitment, are considered, and the potential legal implications of future scientific understanding of psychopathy are addressed.

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  1. 1.

    Stephen J. Morse, Neither Desert Nor Disease, 5 Legal Theory 265(1999).

  2. 2.

    American Law Institute, Model Penal Code, Sec. 4.01(2)(1962).

  3. 3.

    E.g., Susan Wolf, Freedom Within Reason (1990).

  4. 4.

    Paul Litton, Responsibility Status of the Psychopath: On Moral Reasoning and Rational Self-Governance 24–32(forthcoming, Rutgers L.R.; ms. on file with author). The argument in the text follows Litton.

  5. 5.

    Stephen J. Morse, Uncontrollable Urges and Irrational People, 88 Virginia L.R. 1025 (2002).

  6. 6.

    Foucha v. Louisiana, 504 U.S. 71 (1992).

  7. 7.

    Jones v. United States, 463 U.S. 354 (1983).

  8. 8.

    Kansas v. Hendricks, 521 U.S. 346 (1997); Kansas v. Crane, 534 U.S. 407 (2002).

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Correspondence to Stephen J. Morse.

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Morse, S.J. Psychopathy and Criminal Responsibility. Neuroethics 1, 205–212 (2008).

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  • Psychopathy
  • Legal responsibility
  • Criminal responsibility
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Rationality
  • Coercion