Consequences of different addiction perspectives on the assessment of criminal responsibility



Discussions on the conceptualization of addiction are ongoing, most commonly by presenting a dichotomy between the Brain Disease Model and the Choice Model. In practice, the debate may extend beyond the social sciences to the field of law. This study tests the consequences of presenting two different perspectives on addiction in criminal courts, by using vignettes of an addicted offender, who committed either a property or a violent offence. The vignettes were presented to 171 criminal law students and 109 public prosecutors from the Netherlands, who had to judge the degree of accountability (the Dutch insanity defence equivalence), the sentence length and recidivism risk of the offender. This study found that accountability was judged significantly lower when participants were presented with a neuroscientific perspective on addiction as opposed to a choice-centred explanation. No differences were found for the other outcome variables. Exploratory analysis suggests that students are more lenient than professionals. The findings confirm the hypothesis that a neuroscientific explanation of addiction may have exculpatory effects, although this effect is limited to the assessment of excuses. This has practical implications for legal professionals. The potential difference between samples has implications for future research using students as main participants.
Date made available24 Feb 2021

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