The Insanity Defense

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The definition for insanity defense has evolved throughout history. The root of the word is the Latin, sanus, meaning healthy and of sound mind. Insane meant the opposite, sick or of an unsound mind. Barron’s legal dictionary defines the insanity plea as one by which the defendant claims innocence because of a mental disorder or inability to reason that prevented him from having a culpable mental state i.e., from having a sense of purposefulness that is a necessary element of the crime charged. Basically, defendants accused of a crime can acknowledge that they committed the crime but argue that they are not responsible for it because of their mental illness, by pleading "not guilty by reason of insanity." The insanity defense is part of a class…show more content…
These tests were used to determine if a defendant was able to decipher what was “good from evil” or “right from wrong”. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s when the insanity defense changed again with the M’Naghten case. In 1843, M’Naghten shot and killed Edward Drummond, private secretary to Peel, because he thought Drummond was Peel. The defenses argument was that M’Naghten was not guilty because he had mental delusions which caused him to act in the manner that he did. This created the M’Naghten rule, which held that a man is not responsible for his criminal acts, when, because of a “disease of the mind,” he does not know the “nature and quality” of his acts or does not know they are “wrong.” The courts used the M’Naghten rule for some time as the determination factor in cases where the insanity defense was their plea. Because of its broad definition and criteria, the M’Naghten rule adopted many forms over the years. Cases like Durham v. United States help the rule form the “product of mental illness” approach. The test named Durham product test created an assessment for insanity based on a substantial lack of mental capacity…show more content…
Many have wondered if the defendants are mentally ill or are they using the insanity defense as a way to escape their punishment. The infamous John Hinckley case showed many how the use of the insanity defense could cause a major uproar amongst people. John Hinckley used the insanity defense after shooting President Regan while trying to impress actress Jodie Foster and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. According to a poll by ABC News the day after the verdict, eighty-three percent of their national sample thought justice was not done in the Hinckley trial. Aside from the verdict from the Hinckley trial, the public’s view on the insanity defense is not altogether accurate. There’s a misconception that criminals who use this type of reasoning as a plea can evade punishment. When it comes to the use of the insanity defense, only about one percent of criminals use this type of justification. By using the insanity defense, the criminal is admitting they are guilty of the crime however they are requesting a not guilty verdict based on the state of mind they were in at the time of the crime. This can get tricky for a defendant because if not proven mentally ill, they will be found guilty and usually endure a harsher sentencing for the crime. About sixty to seventy percent of insanity pleas are for crimes other than
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