Behavioral and neural impairments of frontotemporal dementia: Potential implications for criminal responsibility and sentencing

Int J Law Psychiatry. May-Jun 2016;46:1-6. doi: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2016.02.020. Epub 2016 Mar 31.


Individuals in the early stages of the behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), a progressive neurodegenerative disorder marked by atrophy to the brain's frontal regions, exhibit severe disturbances to social and moral processing and decision-making after the onset of the disorder. These behavioral impairments, underlain by the neural deficits associated with the disorder, can often lead individuals with bvFTD to criminally offend. As such, behavioral and frontotemporal lobe abnormalities exhibited by offenders with bvFTD potentially represent several complex challenges for the legal system. This paper examines some of the ways in which the behavioral and neural impairments associated with bvFTD may influence issues surrounding the criminal responsibility, specifically legal insanity, and sentencing of offenders with bvFTD in the U.S. legal system. As there is very little literature in these areas concerning bvFTD, the existing academic dialogue on psychopathy, a disorder with similar behavioral symptoms and neural deficits, is used to frame the discussion on these issues.

Keywords: Frontotemporal dementia; Insanity; Psychopathy; Punishment; Responsibility; Sentencing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / diagnosis*
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder / psychology*
  • Crime / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / diagnosis*
  • Frontotemporal Dementia / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Insanity Defense*
  • Mental Competency / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Psychopathology
  • United States