Dahmer and the Insanity Defense

Posted on Categories Criminal Law & Process, Legal Scholarship

Greg O’Meara has a new article on SSRN about the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer, He Speaks Not, Yet He Says Everything; What of That?”  Text, Context, and Pretext in State v. Jeffrey Dahmer.  As part of the prosecution team in Dahmer, Greg has a unique perspective on the trial.  In dissecting the strategies used by both sides in litigating Dahmer’s sanity, Greg draws on a treasure trove of documents from the prosecution’s case file, as well as the work of Sigmund Freud, Paul Ricoeur, and others.  This paper is sure to become an indispensible resource for anyone studying the Dahmer case in the future.  Here is the abstract:

In State v. Dahmer, the defense attempted to lead the jury through a series of inferences to conclude that the defendant was insane at the time he committed each of the fifteen murders charged; it portrayed a client who was fully cooperative and honest once the authorities arrested him. To make this approach work, the defense needed narrative distance between the defendant and the jury so he could not be cross examined about his meticulous planning of each murder or his prior inconsistent statements. This paper briefly lays out the development of the defense of insanity, focusing on the different professional aims of law and psychiatry. It then fleshes out how this tension emerged during the Dahmer trial and analyzes how the attorneys attempted to exploit it in terms of Paul Ricoeur’s narrative theory. It concludes that the defense was ultimately unsuccessful because it failed to give the jury an adequate context for understanding a life both as ordinary and complex as Dahmer’s.

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