Our two most recent entries discussed a Scottish case and an American case in which criminal defendants claimed that the crimes for which they were being prosecuted were a function of their having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This week, we examine a case of an Australian professional boxer who claims his assault on 70-year-old man came about as a result of his having OCD. Part three of a three part series examining OCD and the law.
On November 16, 2009, John Edward Lane, a 70-year-old retired Australian television executive boarded a ferry boat in Sydney harbor. Also on board was Grant Brown, a 31-year-old Tasmanian boxer who had previously held the Australian lightweight title for three years, as well as six Tasmanian boxing titles and four Golden Gloves titles.
According to witnesses, Brown had a contentious argument with his girlfriend on his cell phone during the ferry ride. After the call ended, Brown was reported to be upset and aggressive, angrily kicking the walls of the boat. At some point, an associate of Mr. Lane asked Brown to settle down, to which Brown responded that he was going to “bash your head in”. When the 70-year-old Mr. Lane then asked Brown to relax, Brown replied “Step away, I swear I’m going to punch your f ***ing head in”, and then punched Mr. Lane once in the face. Lane fell to the ground, bleeding profusely, and suffered a fractured skull, spine and eye socket.
Brown was arrested for the assault, and when originally presented to the local court, his attorney claimed Brown was suffering from depression and relationship problems that had factored into his assault on Lane. He further requested that his client be released without bail because of his “good character” and lack of a prior criminal record, as well as his having shown remorse for the assault on Lane. The court magistrate wisely refused bail on the grounds that Brown had perpetrated “unprovoked violence for no apparent reason”, and was a danger to the community.
When Brown’s case was later brought before the court on April 9, 2010, his defense attorney claimed that his client had depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and that his assault on Lane was a result of his mental illnesses and his having run out of his medication at the time of the crime.
But the magistrate in the case, Judith Fleming, rejected Brown’s request that the case be thrown out of court. According to The Herald-Sun, Ms. Fleming noted that “distressing phone calls and feeling annoyed with other passengers on public transport were common occurrences that shouldn’t end in violence”. The paper further reported that the the magistrate found “no indication in the psychological reports submitted to her that Brown’s illnesses caused aggression” and that “if anything, the reports talk about withdrawal” from his medication, rather than the illnesses themselves, as a possible factor contributing to Brown’s behavior.
Brown ultimately pled guilty, and on June 10 2010, was sentenced to two years in prison, with no possibility of parole for a minimum of 18 months. In sentencing Brown, the magistrate described the the former boxer’s actions as “a cowardly and vicious attack on an elderly gentleman on public transport where the victim was utterly blameless”. Brown is currently out on bail pending appeal.
This is just another in a recent spate of cases in which defendants and their attorneys have attempted to excuse criminal behavior on the grounds of having Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In this case, as in the others presented in earlier entries here, the court was able to clearly see through the rhetoric being presented by defense attorneys. The magistrate recognized that the defense presented no evidence of a link between aggressive behavior and OCD – because there is no evidence of such a link. She also noted that being upset after a difficult phone call with a lover is a fairly normative experience that doesn’t excuse subsequent criminality.
Let’s hope that the disposition of the cases presented in our three-part series on “OCD and the Law” is a harbinger of a broad rejection of efforts by defendants and their attorneys to mislead judges and juries with specious arguments about criminal activity being caused by OCD and other mental illnesses.
•Tom Corboy, MFT, is the director of the OCD Center of Los Angeles, a private, outpatient clinic specializing in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for the treatment of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and related conditions. In addition to individual therapy, the center offers six weekly therapy groups, as well as online therapy, telephone therapy, and intensive outpatient treatment. To contact the OCD Center of Los Angeles, click here.