Post-traumatic stress disorder commonly referred to as PTSD is an anxiety disorder referring to the psychological trauma faced by an individual. It is a very common condition among veterans and the military previously referred to it as war neurosis or shell shock. Research showed that there seems to be a very strong correlation between the condition and criminal behavior and in the recent years, PTSD has received a lot of attention as a legal defense. However, one should note that it does not traditionally qualify as insanity. The condition is used to show undue stress and diminished capacity in an individual, and how it influences their behavior and mostly combined with other factors.

At first, there was a lot of debate if PSTD was significant to a judge before accepting guilty pleas from the persons suffering from the disorder and if it actually contributed to the misconduct in question. Psychologists also suggest even though war experience is a major cause of the disorder, one should not rule out other experiences such as brutality in one’s environment, abandonment and even poverty. The main purpose of using PTSD, as a defense is to deter the punishment of individuals who committed crime induced by their circumstances and showing that they are not wholly to blame.

Veterans are highly susceptible to PTSD because of the traumatic environment they had to endure during the war. Nearly 1.5 million soldiers have been deployed for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and that nearly 20 percent of them on returning are diagnosed with PTSD since 2001. These veterans do not have any criminal records prior to their deployment and find themselves coming back to insufficient transitional services to help them cope and end up facing legal problems.  

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An example is a 2007 case of Sergeant Sean Beveridge, where he attacked German civilians with a club. His defense lawyer pointed out his client’s service in Iraq where he was severely wounded during his time of service and witnessed a suicide bomb attack that left twenty-two of his colleagues dead in 2004.

However, lawyers argue that PTSD as a defense is mostly successful in court- martial cases rather than in civilian courts and they attribute this to the different juries in each case. The juries in the former tend to be more sympathetic than the latter as they are more familiar with the development of the disorder. However, no statistics have been laid out to show an increase in acquittal rates.

Notably, in recent years, it is not a defense alone and is used mostly as a means to mitigate guilt and reduce sentences. This is because courts have tightened the laws and regulations regarding its use especially when used to show diminished capacity. An example is a case in 2007 where Sergeant Anthony Basel was charged for attempted rape and the defense stated that he suffered from PTSD. Even though convicted for three years, the judge took into consideration his condition and mitigated the sentence he was to face.

More recently, PSTD has been used as a defense in murder cases unlike before when it was frequently used in robbery and assault cases. An example is the case of Jessie Bratcher, an Iraq war veteran in Oregon who was found to be guilty of murder but proven legally insane as he was diagnosed with PSTD.  Instead of receiving the maximum sentence, he was taken for treatment of his mental disorder at the Oregon State Hospital. Since its formal introduction more than a decade ago into the legal system, PSTD continued to become a common defense especially among veterans and has become a mixed success in the legal system.

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