Addiction, Science and Criminal Responsibility

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This chapter has two simple underlying theses. The first is that it is impossible to understand the relation of any variable to criminal responsibility without having in place an account of criminal responsibility. The second is that discovery of genetic, neuroscientific, or any other physical or psychosocial cause of action raises no new issues concerning responsibility, and discovery of such causes does not per se create an excusing or mitigating condition for criminal conduct or any other type of behavior. The chapter begins in Part II with a brief description of the phenomenology of addiction, describing generally what is known about the behavioral aspects of addiction in addition to the basic criteria of craving, seeking, and using. Part III addresses the contrast between the legal and scientific images of behavior, using the disease concept of addiction, now fueled by discoveries of genetic predisposition and altered neural systems of reward, as prime examples of the contrast. Part IV offers a general model of criminal responsibility to guide the analysis of responsibility for addiction-related criminal behavior, offering the best positive account of the present system. Part V deals with persistent confusions about responsibility. Part VI describes those aspects of addiction, if any, for which persons might be held morally or legally responsible, concluding that only actions related to addiction are appropriate objects for ascribing criminal responsibility. Part VII addresses the causal role genetics and neural systems of reward play in explaining addiction. Finally, Part VIII considers individual and social responsibility for the addiction-related actions.


addiction, behavior, criminal responsibility, behavioral genetics, neuroscience, social responsibility

Publication Title

The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law

Publication Citation

In The Impact of Behavioral Sciences on Criminal Law (Nita Farahany ed., Oxford 2009)

Full text not available in Penn Law Legal Scholarship Repository.