Insanity: Evolving Insanity Defense Essay

Submitted By kflan22
Words: 1733
Pages: 7

In the United States, criminals are innocent until proven guilty. There are opportunities in the criminal justice system where several defenses have been build into the system that can be used to lessen a sentence or to negate guilt due to a mental state. But why do we offer such things to people who have done such harm? Criminal Law is societies contract with itself. It governs what people can and cannot do, what happens when they do break that law and what appropriate punishment fits the crime. If an individual goes against this law, then why give them opportunity to plea different things? It does not make the crime any less reasonable. These are all questions that have caught my attention while watching “Anatomy of a Murder,” directed by Otto Preminger in 1959. Lt. Frederick Manion, convicted of murdering bartender Barney Quill, pleads not guilty by reason of insanity in the film. By pleading insanity does not make the victim any less deceased, so why does the United States law allow criminals to plead insanity and receive a lesser punishment then those who are sane?
The insanity defense has definitely evolved over centuries. This particular defense evolved from the proscribed law of holding the mentally ill accountable for acts that otherwise would have been called crimes if committed by a completely sane individual. Some argue that this is unfair, mostly families of the victims themselves. The insanity defense, quoted from our class textbook is “a defense that attempts to give physical or psychological reasons that a defendant cannot comprehend his or her criminal actions, their harms or their punishment (Fuller 341).” This particular law began to emerge into its modern today form in the 1943

case of Daniel M’Naghten, for mistakenly killing the secretary of British Prime Minister, Robert Peel, in an assassination attempt. After this particular incident, the British House of Lords then went on and created parameters on the insanity defense stating that to prevail, “a defendant must have a mental illness or condition, such as retardation, so severe that he or she did not understand the nature and quality of the act or did not know it was wrong (The Evolving Insanity Defense 2006).” Most individuals do not understand the importance of this law because they do not connect it with the actual criminal law itself. The basic pre-condition for punishment is that the person who committed the crime must take responsibility as a moral agent for the acts that he or she has committed. However, that condition is justifiable when the person who committed such acts is so mentally disturbed that his or her conscious mind was unable to be controlled. Therefore, it would be unfair to punish a person in such an extreme condition because they lacked the morality to take such responsibility that is said that people must have when following the criminal law.
What started as a British defense, in 1962 the United States began to adopt this same defense, and modify it into the Model Penal Code developed by the American Law Institute. This code expanded the M’Naghten rule beyond just the defendant’s sole understanding of the act, to the inability “to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law (Ed. Shirelle Phelps and Jeffrey Lehman 2005).” A successful insanity defense protects a defendant from criminal responsibility and usually results in confinement to a mental hospital. Many people try to argue the

fact that the insanity defense is closely related to Mens Rea, “intent or knowledge to break the law (Fuller 135),” but in some states when a prosecutor obtains psychiatric evidence, it is used to directly negate Mens Rae and proves that the defendant has reasons or excuses for his or her actions. As this defense keeps evolving, different forms of the insanity plea have taken shape. Relatable pleas are Affirmative Defenses and Irresistible Impulse. Affirmative defense says that the defendant committed the offense but had a good