Bad or Mad? Personality disorders and legal responsibility-the German situation

Behav Sci Law. 2000;18(5):679-90. doi: 10.1002/1099-0798(200010)18:5<679::aid-bsl405>;2-l.


Criminal offenders have a high rate of personality disorders (PDS), especially Antisocial Personality Disorders and psychopathy, but criminal acts are not necessarily the result of PD. Findings from psychiatric research suggest that the development of PD is influenced by genetic factors, that can result in deviant traits in temper, emotionality and cognitive style. There is general agreement that those peculiarities and vulnerabilities find their expression and structure only under a complex interplay of stimulating or impairing environmental influences. Do these genetic factors-or other factors-diminish a person's criminal responsibility? There is no difficulty in diagnosing PDs, but the challenging questions arise in forensic assessments of defendants for criminal responsibility who have a PD. This article discusses the German legal situation and special problems created by the term of "diminished" criminal responsibility. In contrast to the Anglo-American legal situation, the German criminal law obliges the court to order an indeterminate forensic - psychiatric confinement, in addition to punishment, if the offender had acted under diminished criminal responsibility and is now still considered to be dangerous. The convicted offender remains under the control of the criminal court during psychiatric hospitalization. The change from handling the personality disordered offender as a criminal to handling him as someone with a mental disorder creates a social option for extended state interventions, including indeterminate hospitalization.

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / epidemiology
  • Criminal Law / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Germany / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Personality Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales