Dead or Alive: the Criminally Insane

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Severely mentally ill individuals may commit horrific crimes. Many believe that these crimes deserve the death penalty; however, others believe that in certain circumstances the mentally ill should be exempt from capital punishment and believe that the punishment is too extreme for those who are not fully aware of committing their crimes. Many mentally ill individuals have been executed and some are currently on death row. All the while, this controversial issue is still being debated on.

Mental illness is defined as “Any of various conditions characterized by impairment of an individual’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning, and caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma” (thefreedictionary.com). A defendant charged with a crime may present the court with an insanity plea. Upon application of the insanity plea, the defendant must be psychologically evaluated. A common test that is used for this evaluation is called the M’Naghten rules. These rules state that “it must be clearly proved that at the time of committing the act the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or as not to know that what he was doing was wrong” (bailii.org). In using this defence the accused may receive a verdict of “guilty but mentally ill,” which means the accused party may still receive the death penalty. It is extremely rare that an individual using the insanity plea defence gets acquitted. When an accused individual receives the verdict of “guilty but mentally ill” (GBMI), that person may as well be found guilty. By law the purpose of the GBMI statute is “to reduce the number of defendants being completely relieved of criminal responsibility and to insure the mentally ill receive treatment for their benefit as well as societies benefit while incarcerated” (caselaw.findlaw.com). I do not believe that...
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