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The Insanity Defense Essay

1377 words - 6 pages

The first claim of the insanity defense recorded can be found in Hammurabi’s code which dates back to around 1772 BC. The Code of Hammurabi is a Babylonian law code of ancient Iraq, formerly Mesopotamia. Back when the Roman Empire ruled the government found convicted people to be non-compos mentis. This means without mastery of mind and not guilty for their criminal actions. There have been many different types of test over the years to determine if the defendant is actually insane. The first test was the “good and evil” test. It came from religious and biblical concepts. People who couldn’t distinguish between good and evil were considered to be insane. If they could not do so they were ...view middle of the document...

Their responses then established specific test to be applied by a jury in an insanity case. These processes became known as the M'Naghten Rule. (Lab, Williams, Halcomb, Burek , King & Buerger, 2013)
Under the M'Naghten test of insanity a person was not criminally responsible if at the time of the crime, he did not know what the nature of the act was or that it was wrong. Under this test the jury was required to answer two questions. The first question being “did the defendant know what he was doing when he committed the crime?” The second one was “did the defendant understand that his actions were wrong?” This test allowed a prosecutor to prove sanity. The prosecutor proved this by simply showing that the defendant understood the moral consequences of an action. So therefore mental illness did not matter. Many jurisdictions believed that M'Naghten's insanity test was a good test that showed correct results, but did not go into detail. The law should not only acquit a person of not knowing an act was wrong, but should also acquit a person who couldn’t prevent themselves from committing the act even if they knew it was wrong. Basically the theory stated that mental illnesses could make a person act against their will. There was another test brought into the psychological scene called the Irresistible Impulse test. There were many criticisms to this test a few being that all men have impulses. The way society works is they tell you to resist them or face consequences. Also there is no practical way to identify which impulses couldn’t have been resisted and which ones could. Even though this test had many flaws with the Irresistible Impulse test, almost one-half of the states started using the Irresistible Impulse test along with the M'Naghten test. This took place toward the beginning of the 20th Century. (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl)
After World War II the mental problems experienced brought government attention to psychiatric disorders. After this war there was medicine invented for people with psychiatric disorders. With this new the people thought there was hope for a possible cure of mental problems. The federal circuit court in the District of Columbia did not like the M'Naghten and Irresistible Impulse standard. They then got rid of the test and adopted the Durham Test. In 1954 the case of Durham v. United States, 214 F.2d 862 took place. The test suggested that a person was not criminally responsible only if the unlawful action was the reason of a mental disease or defect. A jury was required to answer two questions before making their decision on the verdict. The first one being “did the defendant have a mental disease or defect?” The second question was, “if so, was the disease or defect the reason for the unlawful act?” Both of the answers to the questions had to be "yes" in order of a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. This test recognized that mental illness was a disease that could be treated and maybe even cured. In...

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