Over the course of recent months, the world has waited with bated breath to find out whether Anders Behring Breivik committed his horrific attack as a result of “madness” or pure evil. Last week, the high-profile trial concluded with a unanimous verdict declaring Breivik sane and of sound mind, thus guilty of 77 murders across Oslo city center and Utoya island in July last year.
Anders Behring Breivik was arrested as the sole suspect for the bomb and gun attacks in Norway which left 77 people dead. Since being taken into custody, he has openly admitted carrying out the killings, planning the attacks in detail and has stated that has motive was and remains the prevention of ongoing immigration in Norway by sparking a revolution.
Breivik was ruled by the court to be sane at the time of the crime and was thus handed down the maximum sentence of 21 years behind bars.
In what will have undoubtedly come as a disappointment to some, the court’s ruling has been dubbed a victory for both Breivik and his defense team. Prosecuting parties had been pressing for Breivik to be declared insane and committed to a psychiatric facility indefinitely – a punishment he declared to be a fate worse than death .
As such, when the 21 year prison sentence was handed down, Breivik and his defense team technically got exactly what they wanted.
Whether or not Breivik was guilty of the crimes laid before him was never a question, which in turn rendered the entire focus of the trial that of whether or not he was sane or otherwise. Criminal responsibility essentially depends on the accused party’s capacity at the time of the incident, which frequently plagues the criminal justice system following acts of inhuman brutality.
Given the high-profile nature of the trial, the Breivik ruling has once again thrown into the spotlight the debate as to where to draw the line between insane and evil.
Court reports state that Breivik was extensively examined by medical experts totaling 18, of which some reached the conclusion that he was indeed insane at the time of the crime. However, Breivik personally disputed their conclusions along with several other medical assessors, who claimed that his actions were motivated by extreme political ideology and not mental health problems.
The court would eventually agree with the latter diagnosis.
Experts are still at loggerheads as to the accuracy of the ruling, though all agree that actually diagnosing a mental health problem and attributing it to a specific event in a specific timeframe is almost impossibly difficult.
The question in Breivik’s case is that of when, in terms of black and white classification, does extremism and fanaticism cross the line into insanity – a question we may never have an answer for.