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Insanity defense

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The insanity and incompetence defenses refer to possible defenses by excuse; via which, a defendant may argue that they should not be held criminally liable for breaking the law, as they were mentally ill or mentally incompetent at the time of their allegedly "criminal" actions. This defense is based on a principle that punishment is only reasonable if the defendant is capable of both controlling their behavior and understanding that they have committed a "wrongful act". It is argued that some people, suffering from mental disorders, are not capable of knowing or choosing right from wrong, they should not be punished. A defendant making this argument might be said to be pleading "not guilty by reason of insanity" (NGRI).

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Psychiatric Treatment Those found to have been not guilty by reason of insanity are often then required to undergo psychiatric treatment; except in the case of temporary insanity (see below). Defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity are generally placed in a mental institution. Unlike defendants who are found guilty of a crime, they are not institutionalized for a fixed period, but rather they are held within the institution until authorities determine that they are no longer a threat. Authorities making this decision tend to be cautious; as a result, defendants can often spend more time there they would have in prison (had they been convicted). In Foucha v. Louisiana[?] (1992) the Supreme Court ruled that a person could not be held "indefinitely".

Psychosis and Schizophrenia In practice, a finding of "not guilty by reason of insanity" almost always requires that the defendant have been in a state of active psychosis (at the time the law was broken) and usually such findings involve a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia.

Incompetency, Intoxication, and Mental Illness The concept of insanity is different from the concept of incompetency. Incompetency denotes the inability of a defendant to understand the charges against them, to participate in their defense, and relates to the defendant's state of mind at the time of trial. A trial cannot proceed if a defendant has been found incompetent, unless the defendant later becomes competent.

The legal concept of insanity is different from the psychiatric concept of mental illness. Frequently, a person whose mental illness is not under dispute will be determined sane as the court will argue that despite a "mental illness" the defendant should still be held responsible; such a ruling is known as either a Guilty but Mentally Ill (GBMI) or a Guilty but Insane verdict. Michigan (1975) was the first state to pass a GMBI verdict. Sometimes a person without mental illness to be found to be insane, as for example, if a person who is acting under the influence of a drug that was involuntarily administered (though voluntary intoxication has been rejected by most jurisdictions as a defence to crime). (See: involuntary intoxication)

History of the Insanity Defense The concept of defense by insanity has existed since ancient Greece and Rome. The first complete transcript of an insanity trial dates 1724. In Ford v. Wainwright[?] (1975) the US Supreme Court ruled that insane prisoners cannot be executed.

Controversy Over the Insanity Defense There are many different interpretations of "insane" and many different notions of how to deal with insane individuals. In the US (1982), the insanity defense came under increasing criticism following the acquittal of John Hinckley, Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Reagan.

Some US courts have begun to ban the use of the insanity defense and a 1994 Supreme Court ruling upheld the right of Montana to do so. Idaho and Utah have also banned this defense. Critics of the defense argue that it relies too much on opinion and/or "permits" behavior by one group which is forbidden to another. Some opponents, including Thomas Szasz, believe that mental illness and insanity are part of a "mental illness myth". (See antipsychiatry)

The McNaghten Rules The McNaghten rules (England, 1844) state that a person "...is not guilty of a crime if, at the time of the crime, they either didn't know what they were doing, or didn't know that what they were doing was wrong." This rule was later adopted within the US.

The Irresistible Impulse There is also an idea of an irresistible impulse, which argues that a person may have known an act was illegal; but, because of a mental impairment, they couldn't control their actions. In 1994, Lorena Bobbitt was found not guilty of a crime, when her defense argued that an irresistible impulse led her to cut off her husband's penis.

The Durham Rule The Durham Rule[?] (1954) states that "... an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect". After the 1970s, US jurisdictions have tended to not recognize this argument as it places emphasis on "mental disease or defect" and thus on testimony by psychiatrists and is argued to be somewhat ambigious.

The Insanity Defense Reform Act The Insanity Defense Reform Act[?] (US - 1984) states that insanity is a "severe mental disease or defect...[which causes a defendant to be] unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of [their] acts."

The Substantial Capacity Test The Substantial Capacity Test[?] was defined by the American Law Institute, in its Model Penal Code: Official Draft and Explanatory Notes[?]. This argues that insanity should be defined as a lack of substantial capacity to control one's behavior. Substantial capacity is defined as: "the mental capacity needed to understand the wrongfulness of [an] act, or to conform...behavior to the...law." This is related to the McNaghten Rule and the idea of irresistible impulse.

The Brawner Rule The Brawner Rule (1972) argues that insanity should be decided by a jury. Under this proposal, juries are allowed to decide the "insanity question" as they see fit.

Temporary Insanity The notion of temporary insanity argues that a defendant was insane, but is now sane. A defendant found to have been temporarily insane will often be released without any requirements of psychiatric treatment. This defense was first used by Representative Daniel E. Sickles[?] of New York in 1859 after he had killed his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key[?], but was most used during the 1940s and 1950s. Since then, however, it has been becoming less successful.

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