“A judge's ruling today that an Irvington babysitter who stabbed her 5-year-old nephew 57 times is not guilty by reason of insanity was followed by screams of agony from the dead child's father.” (Juri, 2009)
This woman will be locked up, but in a maximum security psychiatric facility not a prison. Is this just? Is this fair? It may be. What if this woman did not know that the child was what she was stabbing? What if she saw a dog that was attacking her, or maybe she was even farther removed from reality. This is the difficulty with criminal insanity cases. Sometimes, even if the person is mentally ill a murder is a murder; theft is theft. Should criminal insanity be a useable defense in Canadian court systems?
Through the history there have been three basic definitions of legal insanity. First was the M'Naghten Rule. This rule stated that a person was only considered legally insane if they were "incapable of appreciating his surroundings"(Montaldo, 2010) due to a mental illness. This is a quite strict definition without much room for special cases. It caused a “black and white” view of criminal insanity cases. The M'Naghten Rule lasted until the 1950s when in the Durham v. United States case the court ruled that "would not have committed the criminal act but for the existence of a mental disease or defect."(Montaldo, 2010) the Durham method got a lot of criticism because it was very lenient on the definition of criminal insanity so that it almost depended on the judge to decide if the person was to be considered criminally insane or not. To address this problem a third method was created by the American Law Institute and was published as part of the Model Penal Code. The Model Penal Code provided a standardized idea of criminal insanity that stated
"if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."(Montaldo, 2010)
That lasted until the 1981 Hinckley case where John Hinckley was found not guilty not guilty by reason of insanity. After this most states, provinces, and countries all devolved different polices to deal with criminal insanity cases. Criminal insanity has been around since the twelfth century. It first was a way for defendants to have a lesser sentence or a sentence in an asylum or other location, but they were still found ‘guilty.’ The idea of the defense as a way to get not a lesser sentence, but no sentence, a complete bar of the sentence, did not come in to play until the early nineteenth century in the book, The Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity which was written by an influential scholar named Isaac Ray. The criminal insanity defense is one of the most controversial defense strategies used, probably because of its controversial status, it is one of the least used defense strategies available.
“The insanity plea is used in less than 1% of all US Criminal Justice...