CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Bartlett et al. on Crimes Caused by Prescription Drugs

Francesca Bartlett Wayne Hall and Adrian Carter (The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law , University of Queensland, Australia and The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law) have posted Case and Comment. Tasmania v Martin (No 2): Voluntariness and Causation for Criminal Offending Associated with Treatment of Parkinson's Disease (Criminal Law Journal, 37 5: 330-341 (2013)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

In 2011, the former independent member of Tasmania's Upper House and Mayor of Glenorchy, Terry Martin, was found guilty of a number of criminal acts. His defence claimed that his behaviour was "caused" by the prescribed medication he was taking. While this is by no means an isolated case in its general outline, the decision and a handful of criminal prosecutions in other jurisdictions, raise interesting legal and philosophical questions about how the law ought to respond to offences committed by persons who engage in compulsive behaviour that they claim have been induced by medication prescribed for a serious, degenerative disease – in this case, Parkinson's disease.

In Martin, the criminal offending was serious. The accused was found guilty of one count of sexual intercourse with a young person under the age of 17, one count of producing child exploitation material, and, in a separate proceeding, one count of possessing child exploitation material. Martin received custodial sentences that were entirely suspended.

In his sentencing comments, Porter J stated that the suspended sentence was imposed because he found that there was a "direct causal link between the medication prescribed for Mr Martin's Parkinson's disease and the offending". Blow J (now Chief Justice) stated that Martin "would not have committed any crimes if he had not taken those drugs". In this case, the causal link was particularly plausible due to the strong temporal relationship between the offences and Martin taking the medication: the offending behaviours commenced after Martin took the Parkinson's medication, worsened with increased dosages, and ceased when he stopped taking the medication. Expert medical evidence supporting this causal link – as a general and specific causation – was also adduced, and accepted, at sentencing for the purposes of mitigation.

The authors argue that Martin makes an interesting case study in criminal sentencing. The article focuses on the evidence (about his medication "causing" his offending behaviour) adduced for the purposes of sentencing. The article then turns to the medical evidence associated with Parkinson's disease medications and the link to compulsive behaviours that are clinically referred to as "impulse control disorders" (ICDs).

Finally, the authors assess whether the arguably lenient sentence given to Martin was appropriate in light of general principles of sentencing and their application to the facts in this case. Questions are also posed about the practical outcome of applying current sentencing principles, such as the degree of offender knowledge about the effects of his/her medication and the balance between denunciation and "protecting the public" in cases of serious offending, and demonstrating "rehabilitation" (for example, by discontinuing medication for a debilitating disease).

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