By K. R. Claviger
Several recent commenters have raised questions about what was going on in Keith Raniere’s mind for the past 20 years as he transformed himself from a geeky RPI graduate (albeit one with a 2.26 GPA) running a company that specialized in bulk-buying retailing to the head of an international cult that brought him unlimited access to wealth and beautiful young women.
Paraphrased versions of some of those comments are as follows:
• Why did he have to claim so many “achievements” that were obviously made-up: e.g., He was able to speak in full sentences at age 1; He was East Coast Judo Champ at age 11; He tied the New York State record for the 100-yard dash)?
• Why was he so greedy?
• Why did he get involved in things like commodities trading that he knew nothing about?
• Why did he have to introduce “branding” as a new requirement for the women that wanted to be in his “inner circle”?
• Why did he always have to keep gambling until he lost?
• Why did he have to be so punitive against the people who chose to leave him (e.g., Toni Natalie, Joe O’Hara, Barbara Bouchey, Susan Dones, Kim Woolhouse, etc.)?
• Why did he promise so many women that they would have children with him?
Those questions have raised lots of interesting questions about who Raniere really is – and what motivated him to do things?
And they have also lead to lots of psychological terms being tossed about – sometimes correctly but oft times not – as people try to explain why Raniere did what he did?
Delusional? – Quite possible…
Psychopath? – Definitely a possibility…
Sociopath? – Almost certainly…
But even if all of those diagnoses turned out to be true, will they have any effect on his legal case? In other words, can any of those diagnoses be used to explain away his decades of criminal activity – and allow him to avoid spending decades in federal prison?
Probably not…None of those diagnoses – even if they were all proven to be 100% true – is likely going to save Raniere from being convicted and going to prison.
But it is equally true that his defense attorneys may try to use some of Raniere’s behaviors to craft an argument that could, in fact, stave off convictions on some/all of the charges he is currently facing – or at least reduce his sentence if he is convicted of any of those charges.
Without getting bogged down into too much legalese, let’s take a look at some of the underlying principles of the American legal system.
Right at the outset is the fundamental notion that most crimes consist of two elements: i.e., the actual action (which is referred to as the actus reus) – and the perpetrator’s awareness that the act they are committing is wrong (which is referred to as the mens rea).
A few crimes – which are often referred to as strict liability crimes – do not require mens rea on the part of the perpetrator. One example of such a strict liability crime would be statutory rape.
In the case at hand, it appears that all the crimes that Raniere is accused of committing will require the prosecution to prove that the underlying act was illegal and that Raniere knew it to be so at the time he was doing it.
This means that the defense attorneys will either have to prove that the underlying acts did not take place – or that Raniere was incapable of knowing that he was committing criminal acts.
I don’t see much hope for the defense attorneys in terms of proving whether the charged activities actually happened. This is where are that evidence that was seized from Nancy Salzman’s house is going to be a real problem for them. And then there are those damn brands that are unlikely to fade away before the date of the trial.
Instead, what the defense attorneys may try to do is prove that Raniere was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was wrong.
This is where “insanity” and “diminished capacity” come in to play. And in this context, both of these are legal concepts rather than medical diagnoses.
In order to utilize insanity or diminished capacity as a defense, Raniere’s lawyers would have to bring in expert witnesses to convince the jury that their client was insane – or, alternatively, that he was incapable of understanding that what he was doing was illegal.
If successful, an insanity defense would result in a verdict of “Not guilty by reason of insanity”.
A diminished capacity argument, on the other hand, would only come into play after Raniere had been found guilty of one or more crimes. More specifically, it would be used to argue that the judge should impose a lesser sentence than would otherwise be appropriate per the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
To buttress a diminished capacity argument, the expert witnesses would likely try to prove that Raniere was suffering from some sort of mental disease at the time he committed the crimes. Among the ones that that are most commonly cited in these types of cases are the following:
• Dissociative States
• Irresistible Impulse Disorder
• Manic-Depressive Illness (Bi-Polar Disorder)
• Mental Retardation
• Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
So, buckle up, Frank Report readers because you may well be reading lots more stories about the nuances of insanity pleas and diminished capacity defense arguments over the next few months.
The only question, of course, is whether the great and mighty Vanguard could sit through several days of listening to expert psychiatrists and psychologists describing his various mental problems and diseases.
Somehow, I just don’t think that’s very likely…
Although some states still allow “diminished capacity” to be asserted as a defense, that is not allowed in federal court. There, “diminished capacity” can only be used as an argument for a reduction in the sentence to be meted out for someone who has been convicted.