Syndromes as a Defense in Court

In criminal law, defenses refer to strategies employed by the defendant and his counsel as a response to the statements made in the complaint in order that criminal liability may be mitigated (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008). It is also defined as “a response to a complaint, called an affirmative defense, to counter, defeat, or remove all or a part of the contentions of the plaintiff” (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008).

Defenses are facts that are alleged and relied upon by the defendant to defeat the assertion of the plaintiff even if the facts upon which assertions are based are true. Affirmative defenses are provided for under Criminal Procedure. For instance, a person is accused of assault, while admitting some facts he may deny others and interpose that he struck the complainant in his defense of himself. This positive assertion is known as affirmative defense. There are types of defenses, i. e. justification and excuses.

Justifications are reasons interposed by the defendant as defense without denying the allegations of fact by the complainant but defend his acts based on right reasons like in self-defense or based on crucial reasons like necessity (O’Connor, 2006). On the other hand, “excuses” are reasons which the defendant uses without denying the factual assertions but claims “that he is not responsible for it (as in insanity or diminished capacity defenses), typically on grounds of lacking volition over his free will” (O’Connor, 2006).

There is this theory that in justification, it denies the existence of a “guilty mind,” the state of mind, or the mind process in criminal culpability, which is also known as mens rea while “excuses” denies the existence of actus reus or the act which is the physical manifestation of the state of mind or intent. However, such distinction is not as simple as it appears because there are situations where there is no mental intent, there is physical manifestation of the act but the body is asleep such as in the case of sleepwalking (O’Connor, 2006).

The focus in justification defenses is “on the act and not the actor. ” The exemption from criminal liability is for reasons of being beneficial to the society or that it is socially useful (Milhizer, 2004). On the other hand excuse defenses “focus on the actor and not the act” and there is no criminal liability because the actor is not considered as blameworthy. There has evolved however, a different type defenses which are known as syndromes (O’Connor, 2006). These syndromes have at some time presented in court for actual cases while others are not yet tested.

These defenses were presented as justification to secure “complete legal and moral exoneration,” or as excuses which exculpates one from legal responsibility but not the moral responsibility or as mitigation which “reduces degree of legal and moral responsibility” This Paper shall seek to identify and explain the various syndromes as well as the issues involved in the use of syndromes as a defense in judicial proceedings. Discussion Syndrome is defined as a “as a complex of signs and symptoms presenting a clinical picture of a disease or disorder” (O’Connor, 2006).

The Medical Dictionary of American Heritage defines it as “a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease, a psychological disorder, or another abnormal condition; set of symptoms occurring together; the sum of signs of any morbid state; a symptom complex” Most common of these syndromes are listed below: (O’Connor, 2006). 1) “Antisocial Personality Disorder” This has been “admitted to court to explain to explain chronic fits of anger and violence if subject takes pleasure in violating society's rules as with sociopathy or psychopathy.

” The use of this syndrome was accepted by the court only to lessen criminal liability. 2) “Battered Child Syndrome” This is used to exculpate the step kids from criminal liability for killing their step parents. 3) “Battered Woman Syndrome” This is employed as an excuse in cases where a spouse kills the other after having been subjected to battery during the relationship. 4) “Black Rage Syndrome” This was introduced to the court by a New York lawyer, William Kunstler. This syndrome is used as defense in cases of existing mind aberration which is triggered by racial injustice.

It was employed in the case of Colin Ferguson, who killed his wife but was unsuccessful in court. 5) “Cherambault-Kandinsky Syndrome” or (CKS). This is “an erotomanic disorder” to which is attributed desperate acts committed by love-sick parents who would try to abduct their children and extort money. This was accepted and admitted in a New York court in a case in 1992. 6) “Chronic Lateness Syndrome” This syndrome was admitted in court as justification in a case of a teacher in Chicago who was terminated from work due to tardiness.

7) “Cultural Norms Defense” This syndrome was used to lessen criminal liability. The behavior which is inherent in one’s culture such as killing children first before the famous Japanese suicide is done was reduced by the court to only manslaughter. 8) “Drug Abuse Defense” The defense raised by child molesters to deny criminal liability in the ground that they were acting under the influence of drugs. This syndrome however has not been accepted by the court to exempt the wrongdoer from criminal liability.

9) “Failure to File Syndrome” This was devised by Steve Coleman and applied it in a 1994 case which sought to explain the general incapability of a person to act in his own best interests at the same time consumed by anxiety. This syndrome has not been applied in criminal tax cases 10) “Multiple Personality Disorder” This syndrome has its deep roots from childhood abuse and when interposed, it is part of a defense of insanity. 11) “Munchausen-By-Proxy Syndrome” This syndrome is characterized by parents feigning abuse or actually abusing their children as a means to seek attention from authorities and professionals.

12) “Premenstrual Stress Syndrome” This syndrome or condition was used successfully in a case in Virginia to acquit Geraldine Richter. The defense to exempt her from criminal liability was justified on grounds of hormonal changes which drives a woman to do unimaginable acts. 13) “Repressed or Recovered Memory Syndrome” This syndrome is brought about traumatic experiences committed by a priest or therapist such as sexual abuse. On this basis, juries have awarded large sums of monetary damages.

14) “Ritual Abuse (Satanic Cult) Syndrome” This was used as a defense by Patty Hearst and it is based on the assumption that by reason of brainwashing, a person is compelled to commit acts which are held to be criminal. 15) “Urban Survival Syndrome” This syndrome is predicated on the fact that violent surroundings can condition a person from being violent also as in the case of Daimian Osby who killed two men because of violent environment. 16) “Vietnam Syndrome” This syndrome is part of the insanity defense of defendants who are war veterans from Vietnam and who killed their relatives because of the effect of the war in Vietnam.