How long before we hear a defendant plead, "Not guilty by reason of steroid-induced insanity"?
When San Francisco Supervisor Dan White shot and killed Mayor George Moscone and fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk in 1978, his lawyers invoked the so-called Twinkie defense, saying that White's consumption of junk foods had ruined his sense of judgment. Under California's then extant diminished capacity law, White was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and given a sentence of only seven years, of which he served five.
The Twinkie defense has since been widely derided. (Plenty of others have eaten Twinkies and managed not to murder.)
But no one doubts that steroids have an undeniably strong effect on the personality. Users gain a feeling of invulnerability. They become much more sex-driven. And they become far more temperamental and violent.
Part of the reason this defense has not thus far been invoked may be that athletes don't want to admit that they have taken steroids, and are thus cheating. And even for nonathletes, steroids are illegal unless prescribed.
Plus, judges and juries might be less than receptive. We have yet to hear someone say, "Your Honor, you can't really blame me for causing that five car pileup. You have to understand, I was drunk -- it was just the alcohol talking."
Such a defense is obviously absurd -- no criminal has ever been let off because he was under the influence. But what of preexisting conditions? Testosterone levels vary naturally between different males, so what of that? It's hard to imagine a jury feeling sympathy for some hulking wife-batterer who claims, "I'm a victim --- a victim of my hormones!" But at a certain level, he actually is.
The initial publicity about Richard Speck, the mass murderer who killed eight nurses in Chicago in 1966, centered on the fact that he was supposed to have been an XYY male, i.e., he had an extra male chromosome, which was supposed to result in a more violent disposition. (Those initial reports were false; Speck in fact was a normal XY.) But if he had been, would that have mitigated his guilt at all?
As it is, people with low enough IQs sometimes avoid the death penalty for that reason. In any case, such issues raise questions to which there are no simple answers.
But sooner or later, someone is going to murder in a fit of 'roid rage, and will try a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity-by-way-of-steroids plea. Mark my words.