A syndrome relates to a blend of signs and symptoms that show that a person is suffering from a particular ailment, disease or disorder. A syndrome based defense is thus where a defendant uses an ailment or disorder to escape criminal liability (Schmalleger et. al, 2010). In such case, though they admit doing the offence, they argue that either they lacked criminal intent or that the action was involuntary. An important aspect of a syndrome based defense is that the disease complained of must either be a disease of the mind or affect the mind.
Syndromes may thus be regarded as excuses as they operate on the basis that the defendant was deprived of free will or volition. The rationale being that but for the disease, the defendant would not have committed the crime.
Syndrome based defense
Syndrome based defense are viewed as negating criminal intent or mens rea. It is not enough to show that the defendant suffers from a particular disease; medical evidence must be adduced to show that the disease actually affected the defendant’s mind as to deprive them of reason. It must also be shown that, as a consequence of the deficiency of reason, they either were unaware of the nature and quality of their actions or that they did not know that the actions were wrong.
These defenses may also be viewed as amplifying conventional defenses. For instance, insanity as a defense is raised where a defendant has a disease of the mind affecting their ability to reason. This is the same basis upon which syndrome based defenses are based. It is however noteworthy that the defense of insanity is strictly limited. That cannot be said of syndromes as new syndromes keep cropping up. Another example is self defense. This defense is raised where a defendant committed a crime in defense of their life. This is essentially the basis of battered syndromes. To such extent, one can rightly say that syndromes expand orthodox defenses.
Syndromes may also be regarded as excusing the conduct of certain class of people. This is because those that raise them may be classified into classes for instance the abused, battered or anti-social. It may be argued that these syndromes excuse the behavior of the members of the class. However, syndromes are based viewed as negating criminal intent. This is because as already alluded to, it is not enough for the defendant to say that they suffer from a syndrome, I must be shown that as a result of the disease they lacked or were deprived of the requisite mental ability to understand the nature and quality of their acts.
Schmalleger, F., Hall, D. E. & Dolatowski, J. J. (2010). Criminal law today (4th ed.).
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Learning. Print.