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Brainwashing as a Criminal Law Defence

NCJ Number
Criminal Law Review Dated: (December 1984) Pages: 726-737
P Alldridge
Date Published
12 pages
This article considers the use of brainwashing (or coercive persuasion) as a defense to criminal liability, the terms in which such a novel defense might be couched, and its implications.
Brainwashing is used to describe an abrupt, induced attitudinal change. Methods used to induce this change include isolation, monopolization, debilitation and exhaustion, drugs, torture, enforcement of routine, and hypnosis. Although brainwashing can produce profound alterations in character, values, and disposition, it cannot easily be accommodated by such current criminal defenses as mental incapacity, automatism, or coercion. A justification for making brainwashing an excusing condition can be found in each of three major approaches to excusing criminal liability: (1) that punishment should be withheld where it is incapable of having a deterrent effect, (2) that a moral license to punish should not extend to cases where the defendant's actions could not be regarded as voluntary, and (3) that excusing conditions are those that preclude an inference from the act to the actor's character. Although several criticisms might be advanced against the proposed defense, psychological evidence exists to establish beyond doubt the brainwashing phenomenon and its causal link with illegal acts. There are valid moral arguments that brainwashing should afford an excuse to all crimes. They are based on the idea that a person acting when brainwashed is not properly regarded as the same person who reverts to normal behavior after deprogramming. A total of 52 footnotes are provided.


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