What to do with guilty Jodi Arias and other psychopaths

Yesterday (May 8, 2013), Jodi Arias was found guilty of murdering her boyfriend. Actually, she more than murdered him, she virtually obliterated him. Stabbing him 29 times, shooting him in the face, and slitting his throat almost from ear to ear. She made damned fucking sure he was dead.

That alone should qualify her as a psychopath. However, she's also a pathological liar. She had several versions of her story, finally admitting that she killed him but in, as she termed it, "self defense." She trotted in battered woman syndrome, post traumatic stress disorder, and just about everything but the kitchen sink in an effort to beat the rap.

She may get the death penalty, but should she? The syllable "path" in "psychopath" and "pathological liar" indicates a sickness. She's not a mentally healthy person. 

pathology (n.) "science of diseases," 1610s, from French pathologie (16c.), from medical Latin pathologia "study of disease," from Greek pathos "suffering" (source)

As revolting as the murder was, can we separate her guilt from the sickness from which she suffers?

More generally, suppose all crimes could be traced back to some sort of pathology. What would happen to the entire concept of guilt? And suppose that once a pathology was identified, there was a "cure." Could we ethically hold people responsible for their actions before the cure, given their diminished capacity for making proper ethical choices?

Tags: Arias, Jodi, liar, pathological, psychopath

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You can choose your actions and responses, but how you choose is still governed by objective factors. If you choose based on a certain line of reasoning, what defined that line of reasoning? If it was reason itself, then reason is bound both by reality and by the individual's ability to reason. What defines your ability to reason? Will? 

If the choice is irrational, what sort of choice is that?

Free will which defies causality seems highly improbable.

Unless someone's been living in a box since birth, it's common knowledge that in modern-day USA/Europe/Canada/Take Your Pick intentionally killing someone is considered wrong. If said killer had actually been living in a box by themselves their entire life I might think, "Okay, maybe this box-dweller just didn't know any better. Who would have possibly informed him?". 

Whether or not their line of reasoning, wherever it came from, leads them to agree with society's no-killing rule isn't the issue. If you're a part of a society, you have the choice to either follow the rules, or break them and deal with the agreed-upon consequences. 

If I want to beat the shit out of my neighbor because he keeps letting his dog poop in my yard, I can beat the shit out of him, get arrested, maybe make bond, go to court and get on probation and/or pay some fines (I don't know, I've never beat the shit out of anyone before), or I can not beat the shit out of him, ask him to stop, complain to HOA after taking pics/video of it happening and hope that gets him to stop, and maybe even have to keep putting up with dog poop in my yard. Depending on who you ask, one option might sound better than the other - but regardless, you still understand if you beat your neighbor, you'll probably get arrested etc., and you make your decision accordingly. Any more intricate or semantical than that is to me just a cop-out for someone not owning up to their actions.

This doesn't contrast anything I have said, but the issue remains that a person is going to choose how they are going to choose in a determinate fashion. There is an issue with this approach:

If you're a part of a society, you have the choice to either follow the rules, or break them and deal with the agreed-upon consequences.

That is to say there are two elements involved in this equation: individuals setting laws and individuals breaking them. The same amount of choice exists on both sides. In the strictest sense, nothing is required to be illegal, yet if we allowed laws to be set without some governing sense of reason, the result could easily end up as harmful oppression.

So the question becomes, what is the reason for setting laws? To punish people for doing wrong, or to protect people from harm? If the former, what's the point of that and who defines wrong? If the latter, why should we take any steps further than those which provide protection?

Using the latter, you end up with the aim of preventing harm, and while measures of harm are imperfect, some standard of objectivity can be applied. In the former, what objective factor does society use to determine wrongfulness which warrants punishment? What ethical justification for punishment can there be? What if society's definition or 'wrong' itself is not reasonable? There are many historical cases where it is not.

Society's rules and right to punish are not self-evident, self-justified things. They require evidence and justification in a rational society. Deriving the right to punish others from the sense that they had the choice to be good or bad may very well be fallacious. It rests on the idea that the individual in question could have chosen to not do what they did do, which is nonsense.

On the other hand, if the only goal is reducing harm, then punishment only exists if it serves that goal. You are not punishing people for their choices, but merely taking steps to reduce harm.

So the question becomes, what is the reason for setting laws? To punish people for doing wrong, or to protect people from harm? If the former, what's the point of that and who defines wrong? If the latter, why should we take any steps further than those which provide protection?

Who says it can't be both?

So the question becomes, what is the reason for setting laws? To punish people for doing wrong, or to protect people from harm? If the former, what's the point of that and who defines wrong?

The point of punishment is to try to deter people from breaking laws. Yes, there are people who break laws every day regardless of punishment, but I think it'd be blatantly false to say that there aren't people alive in this world who need those punishments to make themselves "behave". I know people who are already verbally/emotionally abusive to family members, and would be physically abusive if not for the sole reason that being arrested for domestic abuse would be an embarrassment and ruin their reputation. It's completely fucked up, but it does something, at least. These examples are everywhere. And there are fucked up people who need harsh punishment to keep them from committing heinous acts. No, it's doesn't catch everybody. But it still deters some, which is better than nothing. And in this case, where the people who get death sentences are people who bomb hospitals, I couldn't care less. I'm obviously not talking about other societies where you get killed for committing adultery or "witchcraft". I'd hoped that was a given....

[Deriving the right to punish others from the sense that they had the choice to be good or bad]... rests on the idea that the individual in question could have chosen to not do what they did do, which is nonsense.

Still think that's bullshit, but agree to disagree, because this part is obviously going nowhere.

Who says it can't be both?

Let's add a third: providing some satisfaction for the victim if alive and the survivors if the victim is not.

Who says it can't be both?

It is a question of governing principles. If the two come into conflict, one has to prevail. Punishment causes two-fold harm. First, it harms the person being punished. Second, it costs resources, which typically means tax-payer money. If the goal is to reduce harm, punishment can only exist provided the harm it reduces is greater than the harm it causes.

I think it'd be blatantly false to say that there aren't people alive in this world who need those punishments to make themselves "behave".

That isn't being said, but costs do have to be weighed against gains. If both punishing criminals and reducing harm are considered gains, these two things can conflict.

That does appear to be the case in my country right now. The government, with its 'get tough on crime' mentality, adopts policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing similar to US policies which haven't proven their efficacy. The net result is going to be an increase in costs to the justice system with no established effect of reducing crime. The net effect of harm on the general public is an increase, not a decrease. If policy was informed on reducing harm rather than punishing criminals, it seems unlikely this would have happened.

Still think that's bullshit, but agree to disagree.

I don't agree to disagree to someone who walks off calling 'bullshit'. You have clearly stated you disagree, but have yet provide any argument to the contrary. I don't disagree with your argument: I don't even know what it is apart from the fact that it is not my position, and that it has something to do with free will.

Let's add a third: providing some satisfaction for the victim if alive and the survivors if the victim is not.

Define 'satisfaction' in a way to which justice can be accountable. To my mind, this means either a form of satisfaction which is objective, or a form of accountable justice which is subjective to individuals' sense of satisfaction.

Define 'satisfaction' in a way to which justice can be accountable. To my mind, this means either a form of satisfaction which is objective, or a form of accountable justice which is subjective to individuals' sense of satisfaction.

I think there can be no perceived justice unless it satisfies, or attempts to satisfy, the sense of justice of those harmed. And when it comes to justice, perception seems to be just about everything. If someone wrongs another, they should say they are sorry. If that isn't in the offing, then the state can say "Well, maybe he isn't sorry or can't be sorry, but whatever the case we feel a need to give you something or there can be no justice."

I think there can be no perceived justice unless it satisfies, or attempts to satisfy, the sense of justice of those harmed.

Possibly. I'm not sure; I'd have to think on it. I use 'justice' here in a very dry way referring only to laws and their enforcement. What you are referring to seems to also include the slightly more abstract  or deeper sense of justice -- a concept which can exist independent from law itself, or perhaps superior to it.

Feel free to let me know if I am off the mark, but what you are talking about would seem to need to rest within the discretionary power of judges and juries.

@Kris  I continue to be baffled by the almost total abandonment of those injured by the crime by almost everyone engaging in this discussion.

I hear, for example, "Capital punishment accomplishes little." Did anyone ask the aggrieved? The widows, the orphans, those from whom a friend or loved one was taken? Have they no chair at the table? Obviously, we can't give them a place as jury members, but shouldn't the aftermath of the crime be taken into account?

If we're to talk about fairness, what is fair for them?

I've already answered that. Crimes cannot be undone, and punishment restores nothing to the victims. It is not recompense. It placates emotions, but I believe that laws need to be accountable to reason, not emotion.

If recompense is possible, then I support that. Apart from that, if we are going to account for the emotional needs of the victims, I would rather deal in constructive support over destructive gratification. 

I really don't think you can separate justice from emotion. It can't be true justice if it doesn't feel just to the aggrieved. Who has a bigger dog in the fight than those who've been harmed? In some ways, who else has more standing?

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