The Insanity of the Temporary Insanity Defense

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"Not Guilty, By reason of Insanity!" These words have stung the ears of many courtroom observers, especially the families and friends of victims whose lives were snuffed out by a so-called 'insane' assailant. While there are indeed many insane people running around the streets today, I feel that many persons who use the temporary insanity defense are more conniving than insane. Also, being an inexact science, the psychiatric community often offers up differing opinions as to any particular individual's sanity. Furthermore, money or lack thereof can play a major role in the success or failure of an insanity defense. The temporary insanity defense should therefore be abolished, especially for felony offenses such as murder. What exactly is the official court definition of legally insane? Criminal Law and Court Procedures author, Melroy B. Hutnick states that there are three basic rules that are commonly given consideration in deciding an individual's sanity. The first rule, M'Naghten's Rule states:" If at the time of committing the act, the defendant was laboring under such a defect of reason from disease of the mind as not to know the nature and the quality of the act, but did not know that what he was doing was wrong, he is legally insane and not responsible for his acts. This rule is often referred to as the Right-Wrong Test." The second rule, known as Durham's Rule, states: "An accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect." Last, the Irresistible Impulse Rule states: "If by reason of a mental disease, the accused has so far lost his power to choose between right and wrong that he was unable to avoid doing the act in question, he is insane" (Hutnick 23). What does all of this mean? People can commit crimes yet not be held accountable for those crimes if they are found to be insane. The insanity defense is not new. As far back as the thirteenth century, jurist Braeton wrote.


Cited: Caplan, Lincoln. "Not So Nutty: the Post-Dahmer Insanity Defense." The New Republic March 30, 1992: 18-20. Hutnick, Melroy B. Criminal Law and Court Procedures. Albany, New York: Delmar Publishers, 1974. Koshland, Jr., Daniel E. "Elephants, Monstrosities, and the Law." Science February 14, 1992: 777. Margolick, David. "Madness as an Excuse: Two Similar Arguments in the Same Court With Starkly Different Results." The New York Times January 28, 1994: B18. McQuiston, John T. "an Adviser Says Rifkin Is Weighing Guilty Pleas in 2 Deaths." The New York Times March 9, 1995: 8. O 'Brien, Ellen. "Insanity on Trial." The Philadelphia Inquirer November 2, 1995:F1, F5. Slade, Margot. "In a Growing Number of Cases, Defendants are Portraying Themselves as the Victims." The New York Times May 20, 1994: B14. Taylor, John. "Irresistible Impulses, Unbelievable Verdicts." Esquire April, 1994: 96-98. Toufexis, Anastasia. "Do Mad Acts a Madman Make?" Time February 3, 1992: 17. West, Debra. "Accused Word 's at the Core of Insanity Defense." The New York Times November 27, 1994: 58.

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