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Behavioral Modification





Upon reading the Detroit Free Press ( article published Wednesday, April 27, 2005, 1A, “Cops say mom was stabbed 111 times,” I was horrified.  However, I was more horrified that a 15 year old boy was denied confidentiality and will probably be imprisoned for the rest of his life, perhaps subject to much abuse from other inmates.  Or he may be placed for a period of time in a mental institution.  Worse of all is the fact that he will have to live with himself for the rest of his life for the killing of his mother.  Nevertheless, the issues involving the homicide will have to be addressed.


The first issue is whether the youth had the requisite intent, or mensrea, for the homicide to be determined to be murder.  To me it is obvious that the homicide was committed in the heat of passion by a youth who was enraged by his mother attempting to interfere with what he considered to be his legitimate rights or needs.  If so, he may be held not to have had the specific intent necessary for the commission of the crime.


However, a problem arises because the law is reluctant to acknowledge virtually any insanity defense to the commission of a homicide which can be construed to be murder, since the ethical foundations of the criminal law are rooted in beliefs about human rationality, deferability, and free will.


The youth could be determined to have been mentally ill when he committed the act.  The M’Naghten Rule, also known as the right-wrong test, states that a defendant may be excused from criminal responsibility if at the time of the commission of the act he was under such a defect of reason, from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and the quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know that what he was doing was wrong.  However, the youth may be shown to be able to distinguish between right and wrong, but may be unable to exercise self-control because of a disabling mental condition, and therefore not qualify for the defense.  Yet he could have acted under an irresistible impulse, which excludes from criminal responsibility a person whose mental disease makes it impossible to control personal conduct.  


Or, the youth could possibly be excused from criminal responsibility through the Durham Rule, which states that the accused is not criminally responsible if the unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect.


He might also be excused by virtue of the Substantial Capacity Test, which states that at the time of commission of the crime the youth lacked the substantial capacity to (a) appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or (b) conform his conduct to the requirements of the law, as a result of a mental disease or defect


However, not all of the above defenses are recognized under Michigan law.  I propose that if it can be shown at the time of the homicide that the youth was affected by such negativity that he could no longer control his actions, he should be determined not be criminally responsible because of mental illness.


Of course, this would also pose a problem.  He should not be released until it can be shown that it is reasonable to assume that he will never commit such an act again.


A treatment reasonably assuring that he would no longer commit homicide again would be if he were subject to such treatment as the youth in the movie, “Clockwork Orange.”  This youth was subject to such intense behavioral modification that he was not able to adequately defend himself in lesser situations such as harassment.  However, to be able to be freely walk the face of the earth, many individuals would accept such therapy.  I, for one, would.


[I am acknowledging that I was able to complete my research for this letter from “”]



                                                                        David C. Hakim

                                                                        Attorney at Law

                                                                        Rochester, Michigan

                                                                        April 28, 2005