In 1843, testifying that one is insane became a useful defense. When Daniel McNaughtan attempted to assassinate British Prime Minister Robert Peel, he failed. Instead, McNaughtan killed Peel's secretary but was found not guilty by reason of insanity at the trial. The United States criminal justice system quickly adopted this new law of not guilty by reason of insanity, established by the McNaughton Decision. Although he was found not guilty, McNaughtan spent twenty years in a mental asylum until his death. Although helpful to truly insane criminals, the insanity plea has many flaws when it comes to the victims. Pleading insanity should be outlawed because it is unfair to the victims’ families, dangerous to society, and ambiguous in its interpretation.
One flaw of the insanity plea is how the victims and their families are affected. For example on March 21, 2010, Kathy Powell, the mother of 21 year old Taylor Powell, who was brutally murdered by Jarrod Wyatt outside Klamath, Oregon, said the suspect's recent insanity plea was a complete lie. Mrs. Powell said she knows little about what happened that night, but voiced frustration about the defense's efforts to suggest her son somehow instigated the fight that led to his death. Wyatt, age 26, was being charged with murder, aggravated mayhem, and torture. He pleaded a dual plea of not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.
Along with the family’s devastation, they are also particularly worried about Taylor's brother, Andrew, who learned of the killing while on duty with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne in Afghanistan. Kathy Powell said that until the day of the killing the family had always been more concerned for Andrew's safety in a war zone, and said that it was shocking that such a crime would occur to Taylor right at home. Intending to stay involved in the case, Kathy voiced her frustration over the slow pace of the justice system. Both the prosecution and the defense were seeking doctors to testify regarding Wyatt's sanity. Wondering if Wyatt had previously sought help for his mental condition, Mrs. Powell was questioning the insanity plea and the United States Judicial System. When considering Mrs. Powell’s position, there was a great need for emotional closure for her and her family. Providing this closure is what the insanity plea lacks in terms of justice. Our judicial system is supposed to protect the rights of individuals in society. This plea currently in practice and is justifying the crimes of people with mental illnesses with arbitrary standards, and endangering society.
Secondly, the Insanity Plea is dangerous to society in that it causes jeopardy to our national security. McNaughton’s Rule states that for a defendant to establish a defense of insanity, he/she must prove:
“at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as to not know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know...