The Insanity Defense, "Innocent By Reason Of Insanity", Should Be Reformed Or Abolished

1909 words - 8 pages

In recent times, the insanity defense has been prevalent in many high profile legal battles, as well as being featured in numerous blockbuster movies. In addition, it is also the subject matter of countless television talk shows. For example, Ricki Lake, Geraldo Rivera and Jerry Springer have often instigated guests to act out in anger and rage, and thus provided the general public with vast misinformation about mental health. It seems all too common, that the public is inundated with exaggerated diagnoses of mental disorders, according to Jeanne Heaton, a psychologist at Ohio University (Talan 14). Criminals purposely try to plead insanity for crimes they commit to escape severe punishment. It's the 'last-ditch defense' of anyone who's undeniably guilty on fact (Morse). Because of the manipulation of the insanity defense, I believe it is in serious need of reform throughout the United States, or it should be abolished in all criminal cases.The controversy over the insanity defense comes from the many different interpretations of insanity and the different notions of how to deal with those people who are truly insane. The insanity and incompetence defenses are considered by many to be defenses by excuse, where a defendant may argue that he/she should not be held criminally liable for breaking the law, as they were mentally ill or incompetent at the time of the criminal act. This defense is based on the principle that punishment is reasonable only if the defendant is capable of both controlling his/her behavior and understanding that he/she has committed a wrongful act. A defendant making this argument might plead "not guilty by reason of insanity," as defined in the Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics ("Insanity").The concept of insanity is different from the concept of incompetence. Incompetence is the inability of a defendant to understand the charges against him/her, the inability to participate in his/her defense, and it relates to the defendant's state of mind at the time of the trial ("Insanity"). A trial cannot proceed if a defendant has been found incompetent. The legal concept of insanity is different from the psychiatric concept of mental illness. A person whose mental illness is not under dispute may be determined sane to stand trial despite a mental illness. This ruling is known as Guilty but Mentally Ill or Guilty but Insane.Historically, the use of the insanity defense has been limited although not exclusively to those with a psychotic mental disorder at the time of the crime. Such examples include someone with a personality disorder who malingers psychosis and legal insanity or who at the time of the crime may have been suffering from a drug-induced or brief reactive psychosis. (Osran and Weinberger 257).The first documented ruling about the insanity defense was in 1724, but the defense had been used in less than 2% of all capital cases (and was unsuccessful in 80% of those) until the 1980's. The McNaghten Rule, initiated in England in...

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