Psychopathy and the Insanity Defense: A Grounded Theory Exploration of Public Perception

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Modern advances in neuropsychology have demonstrated the significance of a psychopathic individual’s impairment and the moral deficit present in psychopathy. These findings have brought increasing support towards allowing psychopathic individuals to rightly utilize the insanity defense, however public opinion has not seemed to change alongside the research. This study examined the public’s perception of psychopathy and the insanity defense, as well as the perceived merit of allowing psychopathic individuals to utilize the insanity defense. Semi-structured interviews were conducted using grounded theory methodology to develop a theory regarding the modern perception of psychopathy and the insanity defense, as well as the perception of whether psychopathic individuals qualify for the insanity defense. Perceptions of a psychopathic individual ranged from a charming serial killer, such as Ted Bundy, to a reclusive individual with psychotic tendencies. The insanity defense was most commonly perceived as overused and a cop-out, albeit necessary in some situations. Support was found both for and against psychopathic individuals utilizing the insanity defense, respectively based on either perceived impairment or a need for them to be punished for their offenses.
A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
Psychology, Criminology, Psychopathy