The insanity plea, or the “irresistible impulse” defense, described by Martin (1998) as “a plea that defendants are not guilty because they lacked the mental capacity to realize that they committed a wrong or appreciate why it was wrong.” Remains a very controversial within the judicial system, with many believing that the defense attempts to fake a purportedly guilty man’s insanity, more often to make sure the defendant gets a less harsh conviction or the possibility of an acquittal. While the plea is truly helpful to many who suffer from mental illness, many who do not suffer from illness try to use it as a get-out of-jail-free card.
The insanity plea’s first successful use occurred in England by a man named Daniel M’Naghten. M’Naghten believed falsely that the Prime Minister of England established a plot against him, M’Naghten decided to take action, attempted to ambush the Prime Minister, and unfortunately shot and killed his press secretary in the confusion. Established psychologists in England testified to the mental instability of M’Naghten. The jury eventually reached a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity and was held in a mental institution for the remainder of his life. This ruling was then brought to The House of Lords, and 15 judges met to determine the judicial standard of the insanity plea. They established a test under the so called “M’Naghten Rule”, which Douglas states:
“Under the M'Naghten test of insanity, also called the "right-wrong test," a person was not criminally responsible if at the time of the crime, he did not know the nature of the act or that it was wrong. The jury was required to answer two questions: (1) did the defendant know what he was doing when he committed the crime? Or (2) did the defendant understand that his actions were wrong? This test allowed a prosecutor to prove sanity easily by simply showing a defendant understood the moral consequences of an action; mental illness did not matter.”
A study conducted in 2002 discovered that 25 states still utilize the M'Naghten test to determine the eligibility of the insanity defense.
I do agree with the principles of the insanity plea, as it seems to be a very ethical and logical thing in society, as there are numerous valid examples of mental illness and their effects on the mental balance of the person they inhabit. These illnesses can render the person unable to claim full responsibility for their actions. Take Ed Gein for example, one of the most famous serial killers and grave-robbers in American history was one of the only serial killers to ever successfully win an insanity verdict, and rightfully so. Gein had schizophrenia, and found solace in a perverse obsession of his mother, his most infamous trademark included taking body parts of his victims and displaying them as trophies around his house. Do I believe the heinous and exasperating crimes he committed deserved punishment for a sane man? Absolutely, but Gein could not be considered a sane...