Indian Law makes provisions for punishment of every act of criminality or offence; however, the field of psychological disorders continues to be in the grey area at the present date. “A crime is an act that is prohibited by law through penalty”. According to Goldoozian, there are three factors for human behaviour, to be considered a felony: 1) Legally, the offensive act should be forbidden by law; 2) materially, the offensive act should be accomplished or realized; and 3) “spiritually,” the offensive action should be executed to commit a crime. These three elements must be present for an act to be labelled as a crime[1]

To decide whether to charge a mentally deranged individual as guilty of their crime is a matter of dispute due to a lack of resources or grounds on which the sanity of the individual at the time of the crime can be measured. It is difficult to distinguish if the person has truly committed the crime under the influence of his /her delusions or whether they are using it as a weapon to escape from being charged with an offence.

This article focuses on the disorder of Schizophrenia and its association with violent or criminal behaviour.


“Schizophrenia is a psychotic disorder characterized by major disturbances in thought, emotion and behaviour-disordered thinking, in which ideas are not logically related, faulty perception and attention, flat or inappropriate affect and bizarre disturbances in motor activity.” [2]

People suffering from schizophrenia have serious issues in adjusting to the demands of actuality. Schizophrenics often misperceive things around them. They have a hard time distinguishing between what is real and what is not. They often show strange behaviour and fail to exhibit social emotions or motivation and so it becomes difficult for them to blend in and be accepted by society.[3]

 Schizophrenia could be caused by:

  1. Genetic factors- There is an increased risk of the development of schizophrenia in family members of patients with schizophrenia.
  2. Biochemical factors: Many derangements in neurotransmitters have also a role in the development of the disease. These include dopamine, norepinephrine, GABA, Acetylcholine, nicotine, serotonin and glutamate.
  3. Neuropathological factors: Abnormalities in various structures like cerebral ventricles, limbic system, prefrontal cortex, thalamus, basal ganglia and cerebellum.

Schizophrenia is comprised of both positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include delusions, hallucinations, disordered thought processes and disordered behaviours, while negative symptoms include flattening or blunting of emotions, lack of motivation or will, lack of speech and psychomotor slowing. It is mostly the positive symptoms that are responsible for generating violent behaviour3


Studies show that criminal rates doubled in schizophrenics. Violent behaviour started at an early age and criminality was higher in single patients/ divorced due to lack of emotional support, in unemployed schizophrenics, in patients who regularly abuse drugs like alcohol, and opium or non-regulation of medications which was either discontinued or the strength of the dose was inadequate[4]

Criminal behaviour is more in patients who have a previous history of violent acts in the past. The top 3 offences committed by schizophrenics according to a study include 1) spouse abuse, 2) property damage and 3) child abuse. 97% of the victims are usually family members. The reason for such behaviour is that the patient is less socially adapted, lacks support and is stigmatized by society. Family members being the primary victims is a matter of concern as individuals fear stigma surrounding society or being persecuted by the legal system due to which they fail to report offensive behaviour committed by their family member with the psychological disorder[5]

However, the violent behaviour of schizophrenics stems from being victimized previously. The violence comes as a result of a cumulative indifferent attitude towards the patients that becomes a part of their delusions and hallucinations[6]


The psychological status of the suspect is determined during the crime committed. If the mental state of the person is such that it entirely incapacitates the rational thinking of the individual, then the person is not held responsible for the said act. According to the Legal Test (under McNaughten’s rule) in Sec. 84 I.P.C[7], “Nothing is an offence which is done by a person, who at the time of doing it, because of unsoundness of mind, is incapable of knowing the nature of the act, or that he is doing what is either wrong or contrary to law”.

The lack of soundness of mind must have a direct association with the offence in such a way as to satisfy the court of law that the disorder had a direct causal relationship with the offence and that the offence would not have occurred in its absence. It is necessary to establish, leaving no doubt, that the cognitive functions and intellectual capacity of the accused were disrupted to a level that led to abnormally functioning reasoning of powers, facts, and actions[8]

The following factors are helpful to decide if the accused was conscious of the crime being conducted:

  1. Absence of any kind of planning
  2. Absence of any motive
  3. They do not try to destroy evidence
  4. They may report themselves to the authorities

Sec 328 to 339 CrPC deal with the provisions to declare a person’s fitness and soundness of mind to stand trial.[9]

Merely having the disease does not free the individual of all legal proceedings. The nature of the disease at the time of the act should be such that it completely impairs the cognition of the person (ssssssi.e., All aspects of grasping, reasoning and recollecting).9


  • If a patient is under the delusion of persecution (i.e., they are under the misconception that somebody is out to kill them) and under such state of mind commits the act of murder, they hold no criminal responsibility for said criminal act.
  • If the patient is under the delusion that another person has brought him/her misfortune to property or reputation and he/she kills that person then they are charged with murder because killing for taking revenge is forbidden by law.9


Kelsey Patterson born in 1954 in the state of Texas, was diagnosed in 1980 with schizophrenia during his first act of crime when he wounded his Dallas co-worker under the delusion that he was trying to poison him. After being diagnosed with the disease he was sent to mental health facility but he constantly refused to take treatment. He was dismissed from the charges deeming him insane at the time of the act.  In 1983, he committed another crime where he wounded his co-worker in his hometown in Palestine but was dismissed again considering him to be insane at the time of the act and sent back to the mental health facility.[10]

Kelsey continued such assaults under his delusions and his family members failed to admit him to psychiatric care. On September 25 1992, he walked out of his home to his local oil supply where he murdered the owner of the company and his secretary and then stripped himself naked when he was arrested by the local authorities.11

This time at the competency hearing one of the two physicians appointed for his medical assessment declared him to be fit for the trial. This doctor was the one who had diagnosed Patterson with schizophrenia 12 years ago and this time after the evaluation, the doctor was confident that Patterson was sane at the time of the latest assault.11

On May 18 2004, Kelsey Patterson was executed by lethal injection and in his last words he pleaded to be not guilty and to give back his life. The decision to execute was made in the interest of the public as well as the patient himself [11]


It can be concluded that schizophrenia is a relatively common psychological disorder and studies related to it can help in finding and accessing the care and support they need. The Indian legal system should keep the panel open for debate on the culpability of people with mental disorders to not bring someone to book who is not guilty or to not dismiss someone responsible for the crime but was released solely because the accused suffers from a mental health disorder. Either way, patients having a mental disorder should be under strict vigilance as they might pose a threat to society and their own lives as well.

Authors Name:

Olivia Hati (Maharashtra National Law University, Nagpur)

Samiksha Vasudevan Iyer (SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai)

Shreya Sudheeran Gupta (Dr. Vasantrao pawar medical college, Nashik)


[1] A. Ghoreishi, et al., ‘Prevalence and Attributes of Criminality in Patients with Schizophrenia’ (2015) 7 (1) J. of INJ & VIOL. RES. <> accessed 05 February 2023

[2] Robert Baron and Girishwar Misra , Textbook of Psychology (5th edition, Pearson Publications 2000)


[4]A Ghoreishi (n 1)


[6] JT; CHTWRD, ‘Criminal Behaviour among Schizophrenics’ (1987) 32(4) CAN. J. of PSY. <> accessed 05 February 2023

[7] Indian Penal Code 1860, s 84

[8] Dr. K.S. Narayan Reddy, The essentials of Forensic Medicine and Toxicology (33rd edition, Jaypee Brothers Medical 2015)


[10] ‘Kelsey Patterson Case Study’ (TCADP, June 2010) < > accessed 05 February 2023


error: Content is protected !!