Personality disorders and criminal law: An international perspective

Landy F. Sparr

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


At the International War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), a detention camp guard, charged with acts of murder and torture, advanced a plea of diminished responsibility. Defense psychiatrists testified that he had a personality disorder that influenced his ability to control his behavior, but a prosecution expert testified that the guard did not meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR) criteria. Thus, the unresolved question of how the law defines a mental disease or defect for purposes of mitigation or excuse was transposed to an international setting. It has been argued in a variety of jurisdictions and national legal systems that exculpatory mental disorders must be serious, and personality disorders should not qualify. In fact, it has been proposed that the volitional aspect of excuse defenses be eliminated, and definitions of mental disease or defect narrowed. Others have argued that such exclusions are too restrictive and arbitrary. This article examines the criminal defense at ICTY and traces its origin in national jurisdictions. Mental incapacity defenses based on personality disorders are more often used in The Netherlands, England, Germany and Belgium, but seldom in Canada and rarely in the United States and Sweden.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)168-181
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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