The Insanity DefenseThe insanity defense is a topic that is commonly argued about. It is a topic that is helpful to be informed about and could be fixed. While my research was limited since there are not many cases of the insanity defense, many individuals believe that this defense is only used to allow defendants to get less time in prison and get away with a crime. Although this has been true in some cases, my objective is to bring light into this topic since the insanity defense allows defendants to be treated, the public has a misconception of it, and it can be fixed to work properly.To achieve this objective, this paper is structured into 4 parts. The first being a brief insight on the topic. Second being about the process and tests one must go through in order to achieve the defense and how new tests can improve this defense.
The third section then starts to explain how an insane defendant is helped by being put in a psychiatric hospital . It is then followed by a section that elucidates how and why the public is unaware of the truth behind the insanity defense. A section about different types of illnesses is also added and concludes with a fourth section that examines how the Insanity defense can be fixed to work properly. The insanity defense is a plea that alludes that a defendant is not guilty due to the lack of mental capacity to realize that they committed a wrong.
In 1313, the first insanity defense, known as “the good and evil” test, appeared in English common law. (Maidman4) Experts estimate that the defense is raised in fewer than 1% of the 13 million criminal cases filed annually in the U.S (Rudulp1). Some known cases of defendants who have pleaded insane have been the John Shrank case, Andrea Yates case and the Lorena Bobbitt case. Moreover, there are 3 states who do not use the Insanity defense – Idaho, Montana, and Utah. In order to successfully plea the Insanity Defense, one must undergo a series of test and must follow a set of different rules. For instance, The “wild beast” test provided that a defendant should not face criminal liability if he did not understand his actions any more than a wild animal would.
(Maidman5) Moreover, To establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.(Maidman6) In many ways can the insanity defense be used. States go about their own way when deciding how they want to proceed with the insanity defense. Today, states use a wide variety of legal insanity defenses.
Twenty-five states have adopted the M’Naghten Rule or a modified version of the rule (four of those states use it along with the irresistible impulse test); twenty states have adopted the MPC rule or a modified version; four states have abolished the legal insanity defense altogether (three of those states allow for a finding of guilty but mentally ill—Kansas is the only state that does not); and only one state (New Hampshire) embraces the Durham Rule. Accordingly, the legal insanity defense is defined in different ways among the states. (Maidman10) Defendants spend years in mental institutions and undergo heavy medicine.The court then determines whether the defendant needs medical treatment for his mental health; if the defendant needs medical treatment, then he receives the treatment, but once the treatment is complete he returns to prison to serve out the remainder of his term (Maidman26).For instance, Hinckley had dysthymic disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and schizoid personality disorder. Ultimately, a jury found Hinckley not guilty by reason of insanity.
After thirty-five years of confinement in a psychiatric hospital, Hinckley was released on August 5, 2016 (Maidman9). Hinckley spent as much time in a psychiatric hospital than he would have spent in prison. Being put in a psychiatric hospital allows defendants to get specific medication to treat their illness. The public has many misconceptions as to what the insanity defense is, how it works and how it is useful. Public Views on the Insanity Defense The public tends to believe both that the defense is successfully raised without merit and that dangerous individuals are then released back into public once acquitted. There is an unrealistic belief about the frequency with which the insanity defense is used, leading people to assume that guilty mentally healthy people often fake insanity to plead the defense (Maidman16). While some of their assumptions might be true in some cases, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that is the overall brief of the insanity defense.
In general, the public believes that those acquitted by reason of insanity will serve little time in confinement, but, in reality, most of the defendants acquitted spend more time hospitalized than they would have spent in prison if convicted (Maidman16). Basically, the public thinks the insanity defense is a “get out of jail free card,” this, although is incorrect. The public also believes that putting a mentally ill offender in prison is reasonable but “A mentally ill person requires a greater amount of care and different methods of treatment than does a mentally healthy offender.”(Maidman11) Prison is not the type of environment an instance defender should be at. They could do more damage in prison than they would anywhere else.
Prisons lack effective treatment methods for inmates. Accordingly, committing mentally ill offenders to psychiatric institutions, rather than incarcerating such offenders, so that the offenders can get the care they truly need, is the only rational measure(Maidman10). The insanity defense could potentially have a higher successful rate if is it properly handled and solved.
One problem with the insanity defense is the difficulty of obtaining consistent medical testimony. Another, possibly related, issue is that jurors tend to determine legal insanity cases based on personally-held moral convictions, rather than the available evidence (Maidman17) While this is true, it can also be solved. By aligning the defense with medical knowledge, jurors will be able to better apply expert medical testimony to legal questions with greater consistency than under the current defense (Maidman33). Since the insanity defense is rarely used, it has not been modified for a while. Since the insanity defense consists of “unchanging archaic legal rules,”(Maidman33) it will not be able to function in today’s society. However, this can be solved by promoting modern understanding of mental illness. While the insanity defense has its defects, it is essential to have it in the type of society we live in.
Not only will it help the mentally ill, but it will help the public have a better understanding of those who need psychiatric help and it can be modified to work someday.