Does Money Buy Justice?
It's the French Fries, Stupid

Involuntary Intoxication, Lead Paint, and Fish Oil

The criminal law tends is supposed to punish moral wrongdoing.  A person who acts without being aware of his conduct, and whose lack of awareness comes from being drugged, is not an immoral agent.  Thus, if someone slips a drug into your drink, and the drug causes you to harm another, you may assert involuntary intoxication as a defense.  Involuntary intoxication is generally either a mitigating factor at sentencing or a complete defense to criminal liability.  The principle makes sense.

What then of lead paint?  According to economist Rick Nevin (via CrimLaw):

[L]ead poisoning accounts for much of the variation in violent crime in the United States. [Nevin's theory] offers a unifying new neurochemical theory for fluctuations in the crime rate, and it is based on studies linking children's exposure to lead with violent behavior later in their lives.

What makes Nevin's work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries.

"It is stunning how strong the association is," Nevin said in an interview. "Sixty-five to ninety percent or more of the substantial variation in violent crime in all these countries was explained by lead."

Children who grow up to commit crimes did not choose to live in lead-paint infested homes.  Yet (assuming the study's conclusions are accurate) their living in lead-infested homes caused them to commit crimes.  Is it just to convict or punish people who commit crimes only because their brains have been involuntarily poisoned?

Recent evidence is showing a link between criminality and diet.  Namely, people who eat diets low in essential fatty acids are more likely to commit crimes.  (For a discussion of this issue and others, read "The Brain Diet.")  Children do not choose to have diets low in nutrients.  Children eat what their parents (or, in the case of school-lunch programs, the government) put in front of them.  If a parent cannot afford wild-caught salmon, the child is likely to suffer from a deficiency in essential fatty acids.  Thus, that child will be more likely to become an adult criminal.

Given that poor children are the ones who were most-frequently exposed to lead paint and the ones most likely denied essential nutrients, does it make sense to have a general poverty-as-mitigating-sentencing factor?

If it's true that a deficiency in certain nutrients is more likely to lead to crime, doesn't that make school lunch programs the type of public good that even libertarians must support?  Everyone, after all, benefits from less crime.

Should schools be required to fortify school lunches with certain nutrients?   We require children to be vaccinated for certain illnesses.  Shouldn't we vaccinate them from certain crimes?