Assessing Homicidal Mental States at the Time of Offense I: The 2011 Norway Massacre: Background.

As a court appointed mental examiner, I am regularly asked to perform mental state at the time of the offense (MSO) examinations when the court must make a determination of criminal responsibility. A significant number of these cases involve the killing of another human being. High profile cases are often instructive for mental examiners. The 2011 Norway Massacre is especially instructive.

In this multi-post blog series, I will address a number of issues that are commonly encountered in forensic mental determinations of criminal responsibility involving homicide by focusing on the mass murder of 69 people outside Oslo in 2011.

The 2011 Norway Massacre: On July 22, 2011, Anders Breivik detonated a 950 kg fertilizer bomb in downtown Oslo, killing 8 persons and injuring 9 severely. Two hours later, he traveled to a small island, took the ferry impersonating a police officer, and began methodically shooting the 600 people attending a summer youth camp, ultimately killing 69 (59 killed were born after 1990) during the 90 minute shooting rampage. He surrendered to police and was examined, tried, and ultimately adjudicated in the Norway court.

Breivik’s history is very interesting but will not be reiterated here. Of note, however, Breivik had published a 1518 page internet manifesto (Compendium 2089. A European declaration of independence) excoriating his country and Europe for allowing a resurgence of Islam. He presented himself as a culture warrior, instituting a new Knights Templar. Widely available internet images show of Breivik dressed in a wetsuit aiming an assault rifle.


Two teams of psychiatrists were appointed to examine Breivik and advise the judge (no jury in Norwegian trials). These examinations are instructive for forensic examiners. Since the reports and proceedings have not been translated into English, two recent articles are worth reviewing (Mele, 2013; Roth & Dager, 2014).

It should be noted that the Norwegian insanity test in similar to the Durham or Product Test which basically states that an individual is not criminally responsible if the criminal act is the “product of mental disease of defect.” In the US, the rule was overturned in US vs Brawner (1972).

It is interesting to consider the Breivik case in light of the two prevailing insanity tests in the US: the ALI Model Penal Code (“substantial impairment of cognitive or volitional capacities due to a physical or mental disease, disorder, or defect”) and the stricter Federal standard (“the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts”).

After the two examinations were submitted to the court, Breivik was ultimately determined to be legally responsible and guilty of murder by the panel of 5 judges and sentenced to 21 years in prison, the maximum sentence in Norway.

Next: the forensic mental examinations of Breivik.


Mele, I. (2013). The Breivik case and what psychiatrists can learn from it. World Psychiatry, 12, 1, 16-21.

Roth, W. T., & Dager, S. R. (2014).Psychiatry on trial: The Norway 2011 Massacre. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 202, 3, 181-185.


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