Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity: a Look Into the Insanity Defense

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Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Look into the Insanity Defense
On Friday, March 3, 1843, the trial of The Queen v. Daniel McNaughton (West, Walk 12) began. The verdict of this trail changed the way the civilized world views the criminally insane. People who were criminally insane went from being viewed as evil and wild beasts to people who could not be held accountable for their actions at the time of the crime they committed. As time progressed, the insanity defense became an acceptable defense and rules were laid forth on how to declare people criminally insane.  In this essay I will give the events responsible for the McNaughton trial and explain how it’s proceedings and verdict helped set forth the ground rules for the present day insanity defense.

On January 20, 1843, Daniel McNaughton attempted to assassinate the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel. In front on numerous spectators McNaughton fired a pistol into the back of a man he thought was Peel but instead shot Peel’s private secretary, Edward Drummond. Drummond was not killed instantly but he died five days later. A police constable quickly seized McNaughton before he could even get a shot a second shot off and brought him to the Bow Street Police Station (Moran 37, Hacker 45, Asokan, Veeder 587,Weiner 974, Criminal Law 283, Bennett 289- 290). While being interrogated at the police station McNaughton has the revelation “The Tories in my native city have compelled me to do this. They followed me to France, into Scotland and all over to England. In fact, they follow me wherever I go… They have accused me of crimes of which I am not guilty; they do everything in their power to harass and persecute me. In fact they wish to murder me"(Asokan). Asokan tells us that it was well known that McNaughton was harboring an illusion that there was a conspiracy against him. He even believed he was being harassed by spies that were sent by the Catholic with the help of the Jesuits and Tories. The Commissioner of police should have dealt with this condition sooner because two years earlier McNaughton told the Commissioner of his condition and asked him to put a stop to all the persecution. These focus of these delusions were the Tories and without interference McNaughton decided to kill the Tory Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel (Asokan). After the interrogation at Bow Street McNaughton was charged with murder in the first degree (Moran 37).

The trial for Daniel McNaughton’s began on March 3, 1843, and was conducted under the presumption that he was mentally ill. It was almost totally agreed that McNaughtan was perfectly sane of all subjects except politics (West, Walk 12, Moran 38). Due to this fact, the basis of both sides’ cases was the issue of what constituted a valid legal defense (Moran 38). It was argued by the defense that a person suffering from partial insanity ought to be relieved from criminal responsibility and that the nature of this insanity should only be accurately ascertained by those who made this illness the focus of long reflection and diligent investigation (Moran 38, Hacker 46). On the other hand, the prosecution argued “that the mentally ill were responsible if and when they possessed the ability to distinguish between right and wrong” (Moran 38). Now that the validation of the insanity defense was question Dr. Forbes Benignus Winslow, an authority in insanity defense at the time, was called to sit throughout the trail and observe McNaughton (Asohan). Before the trial had begun Dr. Edward Monro, of Bethlem Hospital, examined McNaughtan and during the trail Dr. Monro stated the McNaughtan was suffering from delusions. Dr. Monro believed that the murder was committed during one of McNaughton delusions and that McNaughton was carrying out an idea that had haunted him for years (Asokan). In order to back his claims for a new insanity defense, the counsel for the defense, Alexander Cockburn, made extensive use of Isaac...
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