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Insanity Essay

4975 words - 20 pages

Insanity is a legal term, used to cover a wide ranging and frequently expanding list of mental health conditions and syndromes. Webster's dictionary defines insanity as a "deranged state of mind," lacking the "mental capacity required by law" to enter into certain agreements or "as removes one from criminal or civic responsibility." The insanity (and incompetence) defense therefore is the means by which a defendant may argue that he or she should not be held criminally liable (responsible) for breaking the law, as they were mentally ill or mentally incompetent at the time of their alleged criminal actions.The insanity defense has its detractors as well as its supporters. Although a long established aspect of United States law coming out of the progressive reforms of the classical school, the insanity defense has frequently and regularly come under fire from virtually all sources including the general public, politicians, and elements of both the criminal justice and psychiatric health care systems (Linhorst & Linhorst, 1999). This paper will frame this controversial issue by providing a brief summary of significant historical events, defining critical aspects of the issue as well as the parameters of the debate, examining the reasons given by those who support the insanity defense as well as the reasons offered by those who would like to see it abolished, and conclude with a "proposal" intended to accommodate, if not entirely satisfy, those that would maintain the "status quo" and the abolitionists. This proposal is not intended to be so detailed and comprehensive that it should be criticized from the standpoint of whether or not it could be implemented. Rather it is intended to establish certain critical factors that must be considered in any future compromise between these opposing forces while simultaneously pointing out the weaknesses in their current positions.The use (and misuse) of the insanity defense has been the subject of extensive political, social, judicial and psychological debate since the days of the Roman Empire and early English law. It has evolved into one of the cornerstones of United States law, holding that "persons who commit crimes as a result of mental illness should not be held criminally responsible because they lack the criminal (mental) intent to commit the acts" (Moran, 1985). Still often referred to in its' original Latin form, the concept of "mens rea" means "guilty intention" or even more literally "guilty mind" (Moran, 1985).The centuries of debate, punctuated and inflamed by headline-grabbing and emotion-evoking cases and trials, have failed to provide a satisfactory "solution" or conclusion to this complex and complicated issue. In the United States, each individual state retains the right to determine if and how the criminal justice system will deal with the "insanity defense." Currently in most states, defendants found "not guilty by reason of insanity" (NGRI), are evaluated as to their need for...

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