Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity? Lori Sheets The insanity defense is a defense by excuse. The defendant argues that they should not be held criminally responsible for breaking the law because they were mentally ill or mentally incompetent at the time of their alleged criminal action. The thought behind this is that someone suffering from a mental disorder is not capable of knowing or choosing right from wrong so they should not be punished. When this is the case, they are pleading not guilty by reason of insanity or NGRI.
In 1843 there were guidelines made for evaluating criminal responsibility for defendants claiming to be insane by the British courts. This defense became known as M’Naghten Rules. Daniel M’Naghten was a Scottish woodcutter who murdered the secretary to the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, when he was trying to assassinate the prime minister. M’Naghten believed that the prime minister was to blame for all of his problems. A jury acquitted him after they heard testimony by nine witnesses who all said he was insane. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The common law courts said that a person should not be held responsible for his actions if due to his mental disease or defect, he did not know that his act would be wrong or did not understand the nature of his actions. The M’Naghten rule was embraced with almost no modification by American courts and legislatures for more than 100 yrs, until the mid-20th century. In 1998, 25 states plus the District of Columbia still used versions of the M’Naghten rule to test for legal insanity. The key is that the defendant could not appreciate the nature of his actions during the commission of the crime.
In the United States there is no temporary mental impairment, it falls under the category of a mitigating factor referred to as “diminished capacity”. A mitigating factor which can include conditions not eligible for the insanity defense such as intoxication can be used to attempt a reduction of the charges to a lesser offense or in a reduced sentence. The insanity defense is based on evaluations by forensic professionals that the defendant was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong at the time the offense was committed.
In addition, some jurisdictions require that the evaluation address the issues of whether the defendant was able to control his behavior at the time of the offense. The defendant making the insanity argument might be said to be pleading “not guilty by reason of insanity” Some people believe that the insanity defense is only used to relieve lawbreakers of the responsibility of their actions, prompting some states to ban the use of the insanity defense, Montana, Idaho and Utah banned its use in 1994. California was the first state in the U. S. o adopt the diminished capacity defense. The diminished capacity defense would soon be challenged in California after the famous “Twinkie defense”, where Dan White, who had killed George Moscone and Harvey Milk, White’s defense team argued successfully for a ruling of diminished capacity, resulting in a verdict of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder. White’s defense team blamed the ingestion of sugar and junk food for his diminished capacity. Currently there is no diminished capacity or diminished responsibility defense allowed in California. Diminished capacity” plea differs in important ways from “not guilty by reason of insanity. ” “Reason of insanity” is an assenting defense to crimes. That is, a successful plea of insanity will, in most states, result in a verdict of “not guilty” and send the defendant to a mental institution. “Diminished capacity,” on the other hand, results in the defendant being convicted of a lesser crime. A verdict of “guilty but insane” would result in the defendant being sent to a mental facility but when their mental capacity is restored, they would be sent to prison.
It is important to note that most people who are truly insane do not commit murder. In a federal case, the rules of evidence, procedure and sentencing are set at the federal level. The rules of procedure are the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the rules of evidence are the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the sentencing rules are the United States Sentencing Guidelines (USSG). The USSG sets minimum sentencing for certain federal crimes, and also sets the guidelines by which judges may stray from these minimums.
The USSG states that a federal court may depart downward from the minimum sentence on the basis of diminished capacity if the offense was nonviolent. A successful plea of diminished capacity would not earn a “not guilty” verdict, but merely a reduced sentence, under the federal sentencing guidelines. A famous case that used the” not guilty by reason of insanity” plea was the case of Andrea Yates, the women who drowned her five children in the bathtub one at a time. She was found guilty of murder in her first trial in a Texas court, but in a later trial was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
She was then remanded to a state mental hospital where she will remain indefinitely. After being found not guilty by reason of insanity perpetrators will be sent to a state mental hospital where they remain until their illness can be controlled. However, due to state budget cuts, the mental health system is being pushed to release clients out into the community regardless of the crimes they were originally charged with. Since they were in fact found “Not Guilty” even though it was by reason of insanity they are considered not guilty of any crime.
They are only considered to be insane and thus remanded to the state mental system until they can be cured or the disorder can be controlled at which time they can petition the court for release. It should also be noted that many of the state mental hospitals do not allow for locked doors due to the civil rights of the persons being held there. The staff at these hospitals are limited as to what they can do to restrict a person from leaving the building due to the rights of the “mentally ill”. They retain almost all of their rights when they are sent to these facilities.
Even the right to refuse the medications that would help to alleviate or correct the mental problem that was blamed for the crime in the first place. In the state hospitals, clients are treated as though they have never done anything wrong. The thought there is that because of their mental problems they are not responsible for any of their actions regardless of the effect that those actions have on others. They retain full rights and may be released into the community at any time if the state decides that they are “cured” of the illness that they suffered from when the crime was committed.
In Michigan, the American Law Institute Standard or A. L. I. sets the model for the insanity defense statute intended to soften the M’Naghten standard and allow for the introduction of medical and psychiatric evidence. This incorporates the “right and wrong” and the “irresistible impulse” tests. This test provides that if a defendant at the time of the behavior in question as a result of a mental defect lacks the ability to distinguish between right and wrong or to control, their impulse then they will be found to be “Not guilty by reason of Insanity” Some may also be found to be “Guilty but Mentally Ill. The “Guilty but Mentally Ill verdict is a verdict available in some jurisdictions in cases involving an insanity defense in which the defendant is considered as if having been found guilty but is committed to a mental hospital rather than imprisoned if an examination shows a need for psychiatric treatment. This defense is not available in all states. Despite the lack of mental capacity, should everyone be held to some degree responsible for his or her own actions? Just because someone is not capable of taking care of themselves on a daily basis due to a low IQ does not mean that they do not know right from wrong.
It also should not give them the right to have the freedom to perpetrate the same crime again. If someone is found to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong, they should never be set free or given the chance to commit another crime where they can once again claim they did not know right from wrong. State hospitals are in financial crisis and are being pushed to release these people into the community. A person who displays no violent behavior can be placed into a community group home where they have the freedom of movement almost as any other person in the community.
So what is to stop this person from another confrontation with a community member and once again not being able to distinguish right from wrong? How many times is someone able to claim that they are unable to know right from wrong before they are locked up where they cannot hurt innocent people? It varies from state to state who has the authority to release someone who has been sent to a mental facility for treatment after a diminished capacity or not guilty by reason of insanity verdict. While most states leave this discision to the courts some are at the discresion of the mental health facility or psychiatric security review board.
There are a few that have the Court annual review or a chief administration judge. They also very greatly on whether treatment is mandatory or discretionary. From Daniel M”Naughten to John Hinckley: A Brief History of the Insanity Defense. Frontline: Crime of insanity: insanity on trial: brief history| PBS http://www. pbs. org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/crime/trial/history. html http://www. bing. com/videos/watch/video/killer-asks-to-be-released-from-state-custody/1d03bvvc6? q=Guilty%20by%20Reason%20of%20Insanity