Ever heard of the “Zoloft Defense?” It’s an argument a defendant might employ that basically boils down to “the drugs made me do it.” The Zoloft Defense usually makes an appearance when a defendant is charged with some sort of violent crime like battery or murder. Before I get into what I think about this defense strategy, let’s be sure we understand the drug itself.
Zoloft is an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety manufactured by Pfizer. It belongs to a class of anti-depressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) which, among other things, may cause suicidal feelings. According to Drugs.com, you might also have to be on the lookout for mood or behavior changes, anxiety, panic attacks, feeling impulsive, irritable, agitated, hostile, aggressive, restless, hyperactive (mentally or physically), and more depressed. Sheesh. FYI, other SSRIs include Paxil and Prozac.
In 2001, 12 year old Christopher Pittman tried to use the Zoloft Defense when he was tried for killing his grandparents in the most horrible way: he walked into their bedroom, shot them while they were asleep and then burned down their Chester, SC house with their bodies still inside. [As an aside, Pittman left with the car, the dog and some money. He was found by some hunters the next day, wandering the woods, and said he’d been kidnapped by a black man who had slain his parents and set their house ablaze, but that he had been able to escape. Ain’t that about a bitch?]
The jury was believed that Pittman’s mental state was affected by the drugs but not enough to compel him to kill and in 2005 he was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Attempts at appeal by his attorneys, as recent as 2008, have failed.
We might not remember the name Seung-Hui Cho but we all remember the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007. Cho never made it to trial for killing 32 people and wounding 25 others because he committed suicide before the police could reach him. Cho was not on Zoloft, but he was prescribed Prozac, a similar medication. There is no proof that he ever filled a prescription or took the medication, though. Had he made it to trial, his attorneys might have presented the Zoloft Defense (or a form thereof) as an option. Continue reading