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Answers Whether The Insanity Defense Has A Useful Fuinction.

1162 words - 5 pages

The insanity defense refers to that branch of the concept of insanity, which defines the extent to which those accused of crimes may be relieved of criminal responsibility by virtue of mental disease. The terms of such a defense are to be found in the instructions presented by the trial judge to the jury at the close of a case. These instructions can be drawn from any of several rules used in the determination of mental illness. The final determination of mental illness rests solely on the jury who uses information drawn from the testimony of "expert" witnesses, usually professionals in the field of psychology. The net result of such a determination places an individual accordingly, be it placement in a mental facility, incarceration, or outright release. Due to these aforementioned factors, there are several problems raised by the existence of the insanity defense. Problems such as the actual possibility of determining mental illness, justifiable placement of judged "mentally ill" offenders, and the overall usefulness of such a defense. In all, I believe that these problems, as well as others which will be mentioned later, lead us to the conclusion that the insanity defense is useless and should be abolished entirely.Insanity is a legal, not a medical definition. Therefore, mental illness and insanity are not synonymous: only some mental illness constitutes insanity. Insanity, however, includes not only mental illness but also mental deficiencies. Due to this, there are problems in exactly how to apply a medical theory to a legal matter. The legal concepts of mental illness and insanity raise questions in a conflict between what are termed legalistic criminology and scientific criminology: mens rea, punishment v. treatment, responsibility, and prisons v. hospitals. This debate seesaws to and fro amidst a gray area between law and science. The major difficulty with a theory such as mental illness is that it is just that, a theory. To scientists theories are a way of life, but applied to the concept of law theories become somewhat dangerous. By applying a loose theory such as mental illness to law we are in essence throwing the proverbial "monkey wrench" into the wheels of justice.The meaning of insanity is the legal definition as put forth in a rule such as the M'naghten Rule or whatever school of thought is in use on any given day. The legal test is applied in an adversary system, which pitches lawyer against psychiatrist and psychiatrist against psychiatrist. Because of this, the psychiatrist is often perceived not as a scientist but a partisan for the side that is paying for his testimony. The major problem in this case being that the use of a neutral expert is impossible to implement. In the end the determination of insanity is a layman's decision since it is the jury who ultimately decides whether the defendant is sane or insane. This of course is ludicrous since professional scientists cannot agree on the meaning of mental illness. How can...

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