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Thread: Crime and Punishment : Inherent responsibility, or environmental influence, or both?

  1. #1 Crime and Punishment : Inherent responsibility, or environmental influence, or both? 
    Forum Masters Degree Double Helix's Avatar
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    Are we all responsible for the behavior we exhibit throughout our adult lives, or are we simply a result of maturation based on family experiences and on how society impacts our minds? These notions arise after recalling the chilling words from the maniacal mastermind of the California Helter Skelter murders back in 1969. Some of Charles Manson's many rants have profound meaning. But the one that really sticks out is this :

    "My father is the jailhouse. My father is your system. ... I am only what you made me. I am only a reflection of you....."

    By this he means that his behavior is the result of how he was raised and treated as a child and young adult, and his actions are not the result of some inherent evil, but rather molded by his life experiences, largely foisted on him by society, which was rather brutal at times.* In the end, while Manson could not have been treated differently due to the horrible nature of his crimes, the issues that drive many people to crime are often a tangled web of past experience, and jumbled concepts of right and wrong. Even the most heinous criminals were born innocent babies - a blank chalkboard, so to say.

    Which begs the question : Are we fully and individually responsible for any misdeeds and crimes we might commit as adults? Clearly young children are rarely treated the same as are adults. But after a certain age, that "shield of youth " is dropped, and the full weight of the law usually comes to bear on any transgressions. "Diminished capacity" is often successfully used in an attempt for true justice, or as a dodge to escape harsher punishment.

    The criminal justice system is a can of worms. At what level of responsibility should we be held? Should there be limits based on past experience? Surely justice cannot be blind to all aspects of criminal behavior. The complexities of crime and punishment seem as difficult as any in the physical sciences.


    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Manson#Childhood


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    Forum Ph.D. stander-j's Avatar
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    You are always accountable for your actions as long as they weren't performed under duress, and as it should be. Environment is a component of development, but that does not exonerate bad choices.

    It is possible to have compassion for someone's past without excusing their poor choices in the present, and sometimes, an individuals past will actually influence the severity of a sentencing expressly for compassionate reasons.


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    Forum Masters Degree Double Helix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stander-j View Post
    You are always accountable for your actions as long as they weren't performed under duress, and as it should be. Environment is a component of development, but that does not exonerate bad choices.

    It is possible to have compassion for someone's past without excusing their poor choices in the present, and sometimes, an individuals past will actually influence the severity of a sentencing expressly for compassionate reasons.


    What about those who commit horrible crimes and are totally insane?

    Some jurisdictions want to put these people on trial AFTER they have been treated with drugs to bring them around to some form of "sanity".

    That makes them sane enough to stand trial for an act they committed while they were insane. Seems a little strange to some people.
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    Forum Ph.D. stander-j's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Double Helix View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by stander-j View Post
    You are always accountable for your actions as long as they weren't performed under duress, and as it should be. Environment is a component of development, but that does not exonerate bad choices.

    It is possible to have compassion for someone's past without excusing their poor choices in the present, and sometimes, an individuals past will actually influence the severity of a sentencing expressly for compassionate reasons.


    What about those who commit horrible crimes and are totally insane?

    Some jurisdictions want to put these people on trial AFTER they have been treated with drugs to bring them around to some form of "sanity".

    That makes them sane enough to stand trial for an act they committed while they were insane. Seems a little strange to some people.
    Yeah I suppose there are exceptions, sure. I was speaking within the context of someone who is fit for trial. Otherwise it would depend on what you mean by insanity. Was Ted Bundy insane? I certainly think there was probably something seriously wrong with him, but he certainly should have been held accountable in my opinion.

    I could actually agree with putting people on trial after they've been treated with drugs in some circumstances. If you're a paranoid schizophrenic and choose to go off your meds, and as a consequence murder someone, yeah you kinda did make that happen didn't you? You chose to stop taking your medication.

    I think context can matter in such cases, but it would pretty specifically have to be in relation to psychological anomalies.
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    Time Lord zinjanthropos's Avatar
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    Not many who commit a crime and then wait at the scene for the police to come and arrest them. I think felons for the most part know criminal activity is wrong beforehand. Perhaps a good lawyer could still blame someone else for their actions and get them off.

    Manson apparently not blaming himself with his words, but looking like he understood his personal situation provided a convenient excuse. JMO
    All that belongs to human understanding, in this deep ignorance and obscurity, is to be skeptical, or at least cautious; and not to admit of any hypothesis, whatsoever; much less, of any which is supported by no appearance of probability...Hume
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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    Not many who commit a crime and then wait at the scene for the police to come and arrest them.

    This is true, but those who are really insane are often arrested at the scene, or easily apprehended because they are not the least concerned about leaving evidence which directly implicates them (often witnesses). This is clearly unlike those who try to cover up the crime and hope for a clean escape. Acts of obfuscation suggests the presence of a sane mind to avoid capture and prosecution.

    The most often used cases involve those of "temporary insanity", where someone went off the rails for a brief moment. Surely many have had such an experience, or nearly so, as a result of some infuriating event or activity. It is even held up in some courts as a result of intoxication by various substances*. It seems very likely that many crimes of violence are often precipitated by some psychological trigger, the absence of which would not have resulted in a crime.

    The various states of mind of the perp are potentially highly variable. Analyzing them for real defenses has to be difficult in many situations. That is largely why we have juries, to best determine the true guilt or innocence of those charged.


    * https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/temporary_insanity
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    Time Lord zinjanthropos's Avatar
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    We had a guy in Ontario acquitted of killing either his wife or M-I-L, can’t remember which, because he was asleep (sleepwalking)when he did it apparently. Since then there’s been a few murder trials where the perp’s are claiming the same. Heard of copycat crimes? What about a copycat defence strategy? Thinking temporary insanity as one type.
    All that belongs to human understanding, in this deep ignorance and obscurity, is to be skeptical, or at least cautious; and not to admit of any hypothesis, whatsoever; much less, of any which is supported by no appearance of probability...Hume
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    Forum Masters Degree Double Helix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zinjanthropos View Post
    Heard of copycat crimes? What about a copycat defence strategy? Thinking temporary insanity as one type.
    Good reason for copycats. Get away with nasty things with much less punishment. Temporary insanity likely is at the top of the list.

    This is where expert testimony on the perp's mind can become very contentious at trial and where a lot of cases are determined.

    And the jury must be on top of everything to get the proper verdict. It seems that juries play a more exceptional role than usual in such cases. And of course the jury is usually selected from the local vicinity, so mind-set of locals can also be involved.
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