anti insanity defense




The insanity defense refers to that branch of the concept of insanity
which defines the extent to which men accused of crimes may be
relieved of criminal responsibility by virtue of mental disease. The
terms of such a defense are to be found in the instructions
presented by the trial judge to the jury at the close of a case.
These instructions can be drawn from any of several rules used in
the determination of mental illness. The final determination of
mental illness rests solely on the jury who uses information drawn
from the testimony of "expert" witnesses, usually professionals in
the field of psychology. The net result of such a determination
places an individual accordingly, be it placement in a mental
facility, incarceration, or outright release. Due to these
aforementioned factors, there are several problems raised by the
existence of the insanity defense. Problems such as the actual
possibility of determining mental illness, justifiable placement of
judged "mentally ill" offenders, and the overall usefulness of such a
defense. In all, I believe that these problems, as well as others
which will be mentioned later, lead us to the conclusion that the
insanity defense is useless and should be abolished entirely.

Insanity is a legal, not a medical definition. Therefore, mental illness
and insanity are not synonymous: only some mental illness
constitutes insanity. Insanity, however, includes not only mental
illness but also mental deficiencies. Due to this, there are problems
in exactly how to apply a medical theory to a legal matter
(Herman, 1983;128). The legal concepts of mental illness and
insanity raise questions in a conflict between what are termed
legalistic criminology and scientific criminology: mens rea,
punishment v. treatment, responsibility, and prisons v. hospitals.
This debate seesaws to and fro amidst a grey area between law
and science. The major difficulty with a theory such as mental
illness is that it is just that, a theory. To scientists theories are a
way of life, but applied to the concept of law theories become
somewhat dangerous. By applying a loose theory such as mental
illness to law we are in essence throwing the proverbial "monkey
wrench" into the wheels of justice.

TESTING FOR INSANITY

At the center of the legal use of insanity lies the mens rea. Every
crime involves a physical act, or actus reus, and a mental act, or
mens rea, the non-physical cause of behavior. The mens rea is the
mental element required for a crime, and if absent excuses the
defendant from criminal responsibility and punishment (Jeffery,
1985;49). The difficulty here lies in analyzing the mens rea. In
order to do this lawyers apply one of several rules used by
psychologists. These rules range from the Irresistible Impulse Test
to the M\'Naghten Rule. Each of these rules approach mental
illness/capacity in a different way and in my opinion each falls short
of actual proof. I will discuss each in detail.

The M\'Naghten Rule The M\'Naghten Rule, also known as the
right-wrong test, arose in 1843 during the trial of Daniel
M\'Naghten who argued that he was not criminally responsible for
his actions because he suffered from delusions at the time of the
killing. The M\'Naghten Rule reads: A defendant may be excused
from criminal responsibility if at the time of the commission of the
act the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason,
from a disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and the
quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not
know that he was doing what was wrong. Thus, according to the
rule, a person is basically insane if he or she is unable to distinguish
between right and wrong as a result of some mental disability.

Criticism of the M\'Naghten Rule has come from both legal and
medical professions. Many criticize that the test is unsound in its
view of human psychology. Psychiatry, it is argued, views the
human personality as an integrated entity, not divisible into
separate compartments of reason, emotion, or volition (Herman,
1983;138). Additionally, the test is criticized for defining
responsibility solely in terms of cognition. While cognitive
symptoms may reveal disorder, they alone are not sufficient to give
an adequate picture of such a