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Hurt people in the courtroom: an examination of offender PTSD in Canadian criminal cases

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Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
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A rapidly growing body of interdisciplinary literature is helping to elucidate the complex biopsychosocial effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While PTSD is relatively common among incarcerated individuals, there is a dearth of research examining the disorder’s impact in Canadian courtrooms. Accordingly, this research examines judgments in 122 criminal cases in which PTSD was raised with respect to the accused. An examination of the legal defences employed uncovers inconsistencies in the evaluation of criminal liability of individuals with PTSD. Patterns in expert testimony are also explored. An analysis of sentencing reveals that PTSD is often treated as a mitigating factor; however, sentencing disparities exist for offenders with the disorder, which appear to be related to judges’ differing interpretations of a key sentencing concept. Optimal approaches to treating PTSD are contrasted with what is currently available in the criminal justice system, and recommendations for addressing PTSD in this context are offered.
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