The Insanity Defense Essay Sample

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  • Word count: 927
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  • Category: crime

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Introduction of TOPIC

When is the insanity plea a reasonable and ethical tool?

Thesis: Although some criminals abuse the insanity plea by invoking it to escape being punished for their crimes, the insanity plea should nevertheless still be allowed for those with a documented record of mental illness.

I. Background information on the insanity plea [the M’Naughten case]

II. Abusing the insanity plea

III. Importance of the insanity plea in the judicial system

IV. Example of cases in which the insanity plea had been used

V. Summary of main points

The common awareness that our legal system is based upon the belief that a person is responsible for his action, but this is not applicable to the mentally insane who commit crimes. The mentally ill use the insanity plea to keep them away from prison or the electric chair whenever they commit crimes, and these crimes are in most cases very severe. This (Insanity Defense) is an endeavor to place in morality into our so called perfect law because there is no perfect test to know if the acclaimed criminal is insane or not. Contrary to what a few people who have lost their loved ones through the act of an insane person, and most people who oppose the insanity plea say, a person who commits a crime and at the time the crime was committed he was not in his correct sate of mind and cannot differentiate between wrong and right, the person should not be held accountable for that crime according to the M’Naghten rule.

Daniel M’Naghten, according to the book The Guilty Mind, by John Biggs, was a “Scotsman” who accidentally shot Edward Drummond who was “principal secretary” to Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1843. M’Naghten intended to shoot the prime minister, but mistakenly shot Drummond, thinking that he was Peel

Drummond died and M’Naghten “was charged with first-degree murder”. Today it is certain that M’Naghten was “insane” when he committed the murder. John Biggs explained that M’Naghten was

delusional and also hallucinated, and that “his conduct in London, as proven by sworn evidence

of the witness, was mad indeed” (95-96). Biggs further stated that “M’naghten was ‘under the influence of a form of mental disorder symptomized by delusions of persecution, in which Peel appeared as one of the persecutors”[97].

M’naghten was acquitted on “the ground of insanity” ,and was sent to “Bethlehem Hospital” to “await the crown pleasure”, but was later moved to “Broadmoor” where he died after twenty years, “probably of diabetes mellitus” [102].

After the acquital of M’naghten the “M’naghten rule” which to this day is used in England was formulated, and it states that “defendants may be acquitted only if they labored ‘under such defect of reason from disease of the mind’ as to not realize what they were doing or why it was a crime” {The Washington Post. 27 Feb 1998. John P. Martin

27 October 2004. .

Most people believe that the insanity defense should be abolished because many criminals now use it to escape crime, and because it is now being rampantly used; part of this is true, but should the insanity defense be abolished because of the act of a few scheming criminals? what justice would there be then for those few who are actually insane and have a background of mental illness, those who do not have contorl over their actions, and cannot differentiate between right or wrong. In his book the guilty mind, John Biggs explained and I quote “The act and worng of a madman should not be imputed to him, for that in those causes, […..and others] he is without his mind or discretion” [85].

Also contrary to what people think, the insanity plea is just popular and not over used. A 1991 eight-state study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health held that “the insanity defense was used in less than one percent of the cases in a representative sampling of cases before those states’ county courts. The study showed that only 26 percent of those insanity pleas were argued successfully. Most studies show that in approximately 80 percent of the cases where a defendant is acquitted on a “not guilty by reason of insanity” finding……….Other studies over the past two decades report similar findings. According to Myths and Realities: A Report of the National Commission on the Insanity Defense, in 1982 only 52 of 32,000 adult defendants represented by the Public Defender’s office in New Jersey–less than two tenths of one percent–entered the insanity plea, and only 15 were successful.

A similar number of insanity defense pleadings–“far less than one percent”–were entered in Virginia during the same period. A 2001 study in Manhattan (Kirschner and Galperin) noted that over a ten year period, psychiatric defenses were offered by only 16 out of every 10,000 indicted defendants. More than 75% of the time that a psychiatric defense was successful, it was the result of the prosecutors’ consent. Out of nearly 100,000 felony indictments during that period, only 17 juries heard arguments concerning the insanity defense and their deliberations resulted in only 4 insanity acquittals” {American Psychiatric Association. 9 Jan. 1996. American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. 20 Oct. 2004 .The insanity plea is therefore hardly

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