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Considering Lead Poisoning as a Criminal Defense

NCJ Number
Fordham Urban Law Journal Volume: 20 Issue: 3 Dated: (1993) Pages: 377-400
Date Published
24 pages
This essay describes a biosocial study that was conducted to examine biological, sociological, and environmental predictors of crime and considers the viability of establishing a lead poisoning criminal defense in light of the biosocial study's finding of a significant relationship between lead poisoning and three variables indicating behavioral problems at different ages (adult crime, juvenile crime, and disciplinary problems in school).
The biosocial study a sample of 487 black males who were born in Philadelphia between 1959 and 1962. Data were collected from school records and police records. Three different measures of juvenile and adult crime were employed: number of offenses, categorization of juvenile offenders according to the most serious offense recorded, and offense seriousness. The study focused on biological, sociological, and environmental influences on crime. Findings showed that the number and seriousness of juvenile offenses strongly predicted adult crime. Juvenile crime was most strongly predicted by disciplinary problems in school, evidence of lead poisoning, amount of time fathers were unemployed, and evidence of abnormal speech and low language achievement. Disciplinary problems in school were most strongly predicted by lead poisoning, anemia, and left-handedness. The study indicated that lead poisoning was pervasive among blacks in urban communities and that it was linked to disciplinary problems and aggression. The author concludes that a lead poisoning criminal defense may be viable if a jury determines that the lead effect significantly contributed to the defendant's loss of control. The issue of criminal responsibility is discussed in the context of the insanity defense. 112 footnotes and 1 table

Date Published: January 1, 1993