Argumentative Analysis Of The Impact Of A Serial Killer’s Motives On Their Right To Legal Justice

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Serial killers are a very interesting and (thankfully) infinitesimal percent of the population, and yet they take up a lot of space in the media, with mental health professionals and within other academic and social platforms. This year alone, Netflix released its docuseries on one of America’s most infamous serial killers, Ted Bundy, called Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes; Joe Berlinger directed a movie chronicle of Bundy’s crimes called Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile; detectives recently cleared the 1973 Omaha cold case by the serial murderer Sam Little (Mastre). While serial killers make up only less than 1% of our population, their actions have far reaching implications (Bonn, par. 3). Due to the intricate and complicated nature of these cases, it is sometimes difficult to understand where nature ends, and nurture begins; where the brain chemistry ends and free will begins. Understanding the unique nature of serial killers are interesting in and of itself - we often get fascinated by these stories, perhaps owing to the stark difference in understanding the “rightness” and “wrongness” of moral codes between ourselves and these serial killers. However, they are also important from a social and community perspective. It is important to care and to understand the different facets of a serial killer’s psychological and emotional context in order to drive policy and legal actions, decide appropriate punishment and design relevant intervention strategies. This paper explores the question of whether motives should be taken into consideration in legal contexts in order to decide appropriate punishment. Further, the paper examines how punishment can be decided while complying with the ethical standards of justice to all, which by definition, includes the serial killer as well. In order to do this, I will first provide context about who a serial killer is and then offer neuroscientific and public policy lens respectively to describe prevalent points of views. Further, I will argue about the importance of ethical thinking frameworks in suggesting appropriate consequences for serial killers. Finally, I will look at opposing viewpoints to address relevant concerns.

To begin our discussion, let us start with defining a serial killer. A serial murder is a pre-meditated sequence of two or more separate events in two or more separate locations that are separated by distinct periods of cooling-off (Waller, 4). In the broadest sense, serial killers are those that commit serial murders. However, professionals have categorized people as serial killers using numerous other standards, based on motive for killing, mindsets and/or needs. In general, it is often difficult to accurately define a serial killer as just one thing because the categories have blurry boundaries and people often dip between or across these categories.

Additionally, understanding the neuroscience behind a serial killer’s brain can give us refreshing biological perspective into an area in psychology heretofore largely speculative. A study conducted in 1998 to compare the brain functions of affectively violent offenders and predatory violent offenders provided some insight into the neuroscientific basis of a serial killer’s brain (Raine et al, 320). According to the study, psychopathic criminals often engage in predatory violent offenses, and while it’s important to acknowledge that not all psychopaths are serial killers and not all serial killers are psychopaths, this is still an important study to follow. The amygdala, hippocampus, midbrain and thalamus and prefrontal cortex are few of the areas identified with respect to the manifestation and modulation of aggression in humans (Raine et al, 321). Using PET scanning procedures, the authors concluded that predatory murderers had excessive subcortical activity in the right hemisphere of the brain by almost 8.7%. Further, an interesting case study in this field is that of James Fallon, professor at the University of California- Irvine and his work in studying brain scans of killers (Fallon, 13). Fallon’s personal family history led him to look at his own brain scans that revealed that he had the exact brain pattern of psychopathic killer. Fallon’s scans showed how the orbital cortex, which is responsible for several aspects of moral and ethical thinking, aggression and impulsivity were inactive in his brain, as of those of serial killers and criminals (Kiser). Further, low serotonin levels have also been associated with impulsive, self-destructive violence such as those in serial murderers, and the effect of dopamine and norepinephrine in enhancing aggression (Allely et al, 289).

Furthermore, public policy as relating to serial killers is a very interesting area of focus. In this paper, I will focus on the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) and more specifically, its Behavioral Analysis Unit-2 (BAU-2) which put together the Serial Murder Symposium to focus on operational assistance and training regarding serial murder situations. The symposium was put together to bring experts from various areas of expertise including mental health professionals, law enforcement officials, officers of the court and more to discuss and form public policy regarding serial murders. Interestingly, one of the themes was the determination of an appropriate definition for serial killers and relevant factors that should make it to that definition. Something that struck out to me was how they decided that motivation did not belong in a general definition of serial killers because it would make it too complicated. In my opinion, especially in the case of public policy, motivation should be taken into consideration when defining serial murder and its implications on legal proceedings. The attendees also linked serial killer tendencies with psychopathic personality disorder and established that law enforcement officials and other professionals in the legal justice system must have an understanding of psychopathy as it relates to serial killers, in order to appropriately engage with the case. Psychopaths who commit serial murders are reckless with others’ lives and do not care for the value of human lives; in general they do not show signs of remorse. This is important for law officials during investigations so they can appropriately decide on legal proceedings and punishment. However, the symposium attendees did discuss ideas about motivation for serial killings as an important step in the process of law enforcement. This brings us to the ethical question posed in this paper: Should motives and moral competence be taken into account when deciding on appropriate punishment for serial killers, while still abiding by the ethical code of justice for all? I propose that motives should be taken into account and punishments should be decided based on the motivation, and that if the motives are corrupt, then justice for the serial killer should not hold power. Here, I think it is important to note that a “corrupt motive” is anything that intentionally brings harm to an individual and is motivated by an individual’s own selfish interest, needs or desires, and is not executed due to threats or coercion by a third party. I will explain this using several arguments, including the theoretical frameworks such as that of Deontology, Buddhism and other relevant viewpoints.

This brings us to our first argument in favor of “Justice for all” holding no power in case of corrupt motives in the case of serial killers. One of the most compelling reasons comes from Deontology, an ethical thinking framework that is driven by moral duty and obligation to do what is right. Deontology is driven by what is morally allowed or forbidden - it provides a set of rules that guide what is right and wrong, what we ought to do, within a normative ethical framework (Alexander). In this sense, Deontology holds the view that no matter what the consequences, some actions are morally wrong. By adopting this viewpoint, I argue that no matter what the consequences of a serial killer’s actions, killing someone else is morally forbidden and therefore they should be punished. Serial killers sometimes adopt patterns regarding who they kill - prostitutes, people who sold drugs, people of color, LGBTQ community members, women, men, children and so on. Virtually everyone can be a target to some serial killer’s specific target. Sometimes these serial killers have corrupt motives on why their killing is justified - most of the time, they feel no remorse and hold no value to the human life that they took. In such cases, using the Deontology framework, a serial killer must be punished. No matter what their “motive” or “excuse,” their actions are morally forbidden and therefore must be punished.

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My second argument stems from a Buddhist perspective. According to the principles of Buddhism, karma is a big driving factor for the consequences of an individual’s actions. When someone causes a particular response, they are responsible for their actions, as well as the consequences of their actions. In that sense, serial killers are responsible for the acts of killing and should suffer appropriate consequences. Buddhism also supports my previous argument of motivations behind actions being more important than the consequence itself. Finally, Buddhism supports compassion or the principle of nonviolence, which is one of the most fundamental principles of Buddhism. Taking the life of any sentient being and harming them causes harm to the victim, and therefore the perpetrator will have to face the consequences (karma). In the case of serial killers, by breaking the victim’s life cycle of causing them so much hurt and harm, the serial killers have broken all the three main principles of Buddhism, and through its lens, should suffer the consequences of their actions. This would mean that the ethical code of “justice for all” cannot hold power in this situation because what truly even is justice for a person that mercilessly killed multiple individuals?

Finally, even if I were to place this situation within a framework that opposes that of Deontology, there is still strength in having the serial killer be punished, pending corrupt motives. For example, using a consequentialist lens, if we ignore the motive and just focus on the consequences, we find that even by sticking to the basic definition of a serial killer, at least two lives are being taken. Serial killers not only torture and take the lives of at least two individuals, but also ruin the lives of the near and dear ones that have to mourn the loss of their loved ones for the rest of their time. Looking at the consequences, we still find that serial killers with corrupt motives cannot seek justice to their crimes because their actions are unforgivable no matter how you look at it.

A major counterargument against this is that, due to the high stress - high stakes situation often involved with serial killings, unconscious biases sometimes influence the jury when determining convictions (Waller, 43). Waller uses the situationist tradition in psychology and philosophy to highlight how seemingly inconsequential situational cues can be used to impact thoughts and behavior. Individuals can be coerced into committing heinous acts of crime, given the right situational cues and prompting (43). Further, Waller suggests that attribution biases can further influence how individuals can sometimes be framed in a way that is altering the reality of the situation (45). Further, Joshua Knobe’s work with how the consequences of an action can influence our decision and understanding about its intentionality further shows how biases in evaluative judgements can arise and how they can influence outcomes (Waller, 46). This means that it is important to know whether the identified person is truly to be blamed and is the perpetrator of the crimes, and what the motivation behind that was. Where they being manipulated into committing these crimes? Were they blackmailed? What were the situational cues? These are all questions for law enforcement officials to consider when dealing with serial killers.

Therefore, bringing it back to my thesis, it is crucial to understand the motives behind the actions of serial killers and that should be taken into account when trying to deem someone culpable of serial murders. However, if the motives are found to be corrupt, then using the frameworks and perspectives mentioned above, the serial killer should face appropriate consequences and be punished accordingly. In that case, “justice to all” would start to mean something totally different and loses its power when it comes to justice for the serial killer.

In conclusion, a serial killer’s motive should be taken into account when deciding appropriate punishment. Using ethical frameworks like Deontology, Consequentialism and Buddhism, we can see how all of these frameworks can confirm that corrupt motives should be punished, irrespective of the different perspectives and approaches of each of these ethical codes. However, because of the high intensity nature of serial murders, there might be instances were people are convicted even though they are acting on cues provided by others. Keeping this in mind, it is important to define corrupt motives so that serial killers can be punished appropriately within the legal system.

References

  1. Alexander, Larry, and Michael Moore. 'Deontological ethics.' (2007).
  2. Allely, Clare, Helen Minnis, Lucy Thompson, Philip Wilson, and Christopher Gillberg. 'Neurodevelopmental and Psychosocial Risk Factors in Serial Killers and Mass Murderers.' Aggression and Violent Behavior 19.3 (2014): 288-301. Web.
  3. Bonn, Scott. “5 Myths about Serial Killers and Why They Persist [Excerpt].” Scientific American, 24 Oct. 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/5-myths-about-serial-killers-and-why-they-persist-excerpt/
  4. Fallon, James H. The Psychopath inside : A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain. New York: Current, 2013. Print.
  5. Howard, Amanda. 'Serial Killers as Practical Moral Skeptics: A Historical Survey with Interviews.' Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone: Being and Killing. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. 51-65. Web.
  6. Kiser, Barbara. 'The Psychopath Inside: A Neuroscientist's Personal Journey into the Dark Side of the Brain.' Nature 502.7470 (2013): 167. Web.
  7. Mastre, Brian. “EXCLUSIVE: Detective Shares Detail Connecting Omaha Murder to Prolific Serial Killer.” Omaha Breaking News, Weather and Sports. Nebraska News. | WOWT.com, 27 Feb. 2019, www.wowt.com/content/news/Detective-shares-detail-connecting-Omaha-murder-to-prolific-serial-killer-506467391.html.
  8. Raine, Adrian, et al. 'Reduced prefrontal and increased subcortical brain functioning assessed using positron emission tomography in predatory and affective murderers.' Behavioral sciences & the law 16.3 (1998): 319-332.
  9. Tsomo, Karma Lekshe. 'Compassion, ethics, and neuroscience: Neuroethics through Buddhist eyes.' Science and engineering ethics 18.3 (2012): 529-537.
  10. Waller, and Waller, S. Serial Killers - Philosophy for Everyone : Being and Killing. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print. Philosophy for Everyone.
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Argumentative Analysis Of The Impact Of A Serial Killer’s Motives On Their Right To Legal Justice. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-analysis-of-the-impact-of-a-serial-killers-motives-on-their-right-to-legal-justice/
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