Responsibility and Control: The Common Belief

Many of us believe that those who are mentally ill should not be convicted for their crimes. Such believe dates back to the Code of Hammurabi in 1754 BC. Similarly, U. S. Code Title 18 Part 1 Chapter 1 § 17 gives the right for a suspect to plead for insanity in trial. In Indonesia, KUHP article 44 verse (1) and (2) gives a similar right. The core argument of insanity defence is that someone cannot be sentenced for a crime he/she doesn’t have control over.

This argument seems fairly normal, right? But should someone really be free of responsibility for actions which they don’t have control over?

A 2013 study linked to Kaiser Permanente and Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggested that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) is linked to adult criminality. 151 subjects from 4 different offender groups who were referred for treatment at an outpatient clinic in San Diego, CA, subsequent to conviction in criminal court, completed the ACE Questionnaire. The results are 52.3% of the sample experienced psychological abuse as a child, compared to 7.6% of the normative sample. 41.1% experienced physical abuse, compared to 29.9% of the normative sample. 27.2 % experienced sexual abuse, compared to 16.0% of the normative sample. (Reavis, Looman, Franco, & Rojas, 2013)

In 1916, Sigmund Freud wrote:

The associations of the patients went back from the scene to be explained, to earlier experiences, and this forced the analysis which was to correct the present to occupy itself with the past. This regressive direction became an important characteristic of the analysis. It was proved that psychoanalysis could not clear up anything actual, except by going back to something in the past.

Those mentioned above suggest that one’s actions is heavily influenced by what one has experienced in his past, or more specifically one’s childhood. This implies that the crimes done by criminals are at least partly — or perhaps largely — caused by what he/she experienced as a child. Thus, would it be too far to conclude that those crimes — which they are convicted and served imprisonment or other forms of punishment for — are not fully under his/her control, but the effect of his/her past? Then, should someone really be free of responsibility for actions which he/she doesn’t have control over?

Between the year of 1904 and 1908, German soldiers massacred the Namibian indigenous inhabitants, the Herero and the Namaqua tribe. It’s estimated between 24,000 to 100,000 Hereros and 10,000 Namas are killed in what historians called “the first genocide in the 20th century”. Now, around 42% of the arable land in Namibia are owned by European descendants. In January 2018, descendants of the Hereros and Namas killed in the genocide sued for reparations to the German government in land reclaims and financial aid. If all these demands are fulfilled, then those Germans and their descendants are made responsible for the crimes their ancestors made. Ancestors which they may not have seen in their life, or even know about. Do they choose to be born in the lineage of murderers? Of course not. Then, why are they responsible for the crimes of their ancestors? So, should someone really be free of responsibility for actions which he/she doesn’t have control over?

Then, I would ask the question I asked in the beginning of this essay again. Should someone really be free of responsibility for actions which they don’t have control over?

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