Saturday, June 23, 2012

Prosecutors in Norway Seek Hospital for Gunman

The New York Times has reported that in a remarkable turn of events prosecutors in Norway asked that  Anders Behring Breivik   be committed to a hospital rather than sent to prison. What seemed particularly significant was their reasoning: “In our opinion, they said, it is worse that a psychotic person is sentenced to preventative detention than a nonpsychotic person is sentenced to compulsory mental health care.” The following day the Times reported that Breivik's defense lawyers were arguing that he was of sound mind when he committed the crimes. Understanding why these arguments are the reverse from what I would ordinarily expect is certainly a puzzle. Later I learned that Members of the defense team evoked Mr. Breivik’s human rights in their conclusion that he should be held accountable for his crimes. Mr. Breivik has said that the killings were committed in self-defense to combat what he has called the “Islamic colonization” of Europe. He has argued that an insanity judgment would detract from his cause. "The defendant has a radical political project, said Geir Lippestad, onf of his lawyers. "To make his acts something pathological and sick deprives him of his right to take responsibility for his own actions."I am curious about other cases where the defense and prosecution have made similar arguments. 


  1. Hi, EMB!

    Yes, this is unusual --- you normally see the defense wanting someone to be found insane, and the prosecution wanting them found competent to stand trial.

    The human right to be held accountable for one's actions is not a thing I would expect a defense attorney to invoke, either. Very interesting.

    (I am also wondering what, exactly, the line is between extreme political views and psychosis. Breivik believed some things that were really, really out of sync with reality, like thinking those teenagers at that Labor Party summer camp were dangerous terrorists or Hitler Youth types, rather than kids with an interest in liberal politics. What is the difference between that and believing that, say, your children have become possessed by demons and the only way to save them is to kill them?)

  2. Hi!

    Breivik has always make me think about Ernst Wagner, a German schoolteacher who in 1913 killed some neighbours, his children and his wife under a delusion of reference. A very detailed case report about him was published by Robert Gaupp and his case is still today considered a milestone in the study of delusional disorder (Paranoia, PrimÄre Verrücktheit).

    Wagner defended he was no lunatic, that he acted while being of sound mind and that he therefore should be considered responsible and even executed, because he thought his crime to be "horrific". He also stated that sending him to a mental hospital was a condemn worse than death (I think that Breivik has almost expressed the same belief). I don't have any information about what his defense lawyers proposed, Gaupp doesn't mention I think.

    Congratulations for the blog, I check it regularly and always find it really interesting!