Faculty Articles

The Episodic Dyscontrol Syndrome and Criminal Responsibility

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Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law





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Written from the viewpoint of two forensic psychiatrists, the purpose of this article is to dramatize the criminological implications of a neurological disorder called the episodic dyscontrol syndrome. They argue that this syndrome produces temporary insanity and must be recognized by criminal courts as a total absence of criminal responsibility in defendants diagnosed by forensic psychiatrists as suffering from it. The authors of this study examined and evaluated a young man, who had committed a brutal and senseless crime, and found the major criteria for an episodic dyscontrol syndrome to be present. A functional, and probably a structural brain defect were also present (as a child the defendant had been often brutally beaten by his father, and had subsequently suffered a head trauma in an accident, so that the case fit the criteria of an epileptic dyscontrol). The psychiatrists testified that the defendant should be found not guilty by reason of insanity because of this mental defect. The jury, in its verdict, expressed qualified support of this view. The study concludes that many explosive individuals do not control their violent actions because they cannot: recognition of the organic dysfunction is crucial and can lead to effective treatment and proper disposition. Advances in the area of organic dyscontrol should save many defendants on trial for violent crimes from lengthy and needless incarceration in penal institutions, and should secure for them the psychiatric treatment they need. Eleven bibliographic references are appended.

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