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North Carolina Law Review


criminal defenses, social toxin, black rage, urban psychosis, television intoxication


In recent years, defendants have proffered a multitude of novel theories of criminal defense in seeking to explain their criminal behavior in terms of internal and external influences beyond their control, including biological processes, chemical reactions, intra-psychic dynamics, social conditions, and cross cultural stresses. This Article focuses on one subset of this burgeoning class of defenses: those based upon the central premise that the defendant's criminal conduct was caused, or significantly influenced, by his exposure to social environmental factors or, if you will, toxins affecting his mental functioning. While a wide panoply of toxins exist within the fabric of our social environment, three of the most pervasive and damaging are: the daily reality of violence in our nation's homes, neighborhoods, and communities; the incessant barrage of graphic depictions of violence presented in the media; and the persistence, if not resurgence, of racism despite the guarantee of legal equality. It is not a coincidence, then, that defendants have raised defenses based upon these same three social conditions - urban psychosis, television intoxication, and black rage. The defense theories of urban psychosis, television intoxication, and black rage engender a plethora of complex and thorny issues. The modest goal of this Article is to move beyond the "abuse excuse" rhetoric toward a more coherent understanding of these theories of defense. The Article begins that difficult process by collecting the relevant cases, reviewing briefly the corresponding social science literature, examining relevant criminal doctrine, and exploring preliminarily some of the policy implications of these theories for the evolution of criminal law.


reprinted in adapted form in 4 Criminal Practice Law Reporter 49 (1996) and 4 Criminal Practice Law Reporter 57 (1996)