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The Insanity Defense

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Julia Searby

on 29 May 2015

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Transcript of The Insanity Defense


What is the Insanity Defense?
A defense asserted by an accused in a criminal prosecution to avoid liability for the commission of a crime because, at the time of the crime, the person did not understand the nature or wrongfulness of the acts.

Dates back to Hammurabi's Code in 1772 BC which states that the government found mentally ill people to be
non-compos mentis
, meaning not mastery of mind and not guilty of criminal actions
The Criteria for Insanity in a Court of Law
M'Naghten Rule: the "right-wrong test" at the time the defendant committed the crime. There has to be a diagnosable syndrome to plead insane

The American Law Institute Standard: you did not understand the wrongfulness of your act, and even if you did understand what you were doing was wrong, you were not able to control your actions

Difficult to prove.

Ezra Pound, 1946
American poet charged with treason by the US government for his pro-Fascist broadcasts over the Italian radio during WWII, called Roosevelt, "that jew in the White House"
Found incompetent to stand in trial and was committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital for 12 years
Significance: Many believe that Pound was not actually insane and that the US did not want to execute one of its most well known writers
Insanity is a legal term, not a psychological one
.85% of defendants use the insanity plea nationwide
The Insanity Defense is rarely used because it rarely works
The percentage of successful NGRI defense cases is .26% out of all criminal court trials
If someone successfully pleads temporary insanity only at the time of the crime, he/she can be sent free without any imprisonment
U.S. vs. Other Countries
In a study, the U.S. proved a higher rate of mental illness and a lower rate of treatment than the other 13 countries studied.
In other countries, there is less of a tradition of speaking one's mind, making many cases of mental illness unacknowledged. In contrast, in the U.S. mental illness is highly publicized.
The U.S. is also more likely to convict the mentally ill, having one of the highest incarceration rates. We have 5% of the world's population and 25% of the world's prisoners. 20% of inmates have serious mental health problems.
While the U.S. spends thirteen billion on mental health treatment, as much as other developed countries, access to healthcare for the mentally ill is limited.
U.S. Sense of Justice
In the United States, we often use justice interchangeably with equality, meaning equal treatment of people.
This mindset is reflected in the low success rate of the insanity plea, which partially ''exempts'' the mentally ill from customary sentences.
Not "all men are created equal"
Equal rights does not mean equal treatment

9. Giannetakis, Paola. "The Insanity Defense." Slideshare. LinkedIn, Dec. 2011. Web. 20 May 2015.
5. "Other Notorious Insanity Cases." Frontline. WGBH Educational Foundation, n.d. Web. 21 May 2015. <http://
John Hinckley, 1982
Pedro Hernandez, Current
Pedro Hernandez confessed to killing 6-year-old Etan Patz in 1978 and described the murder in detail
Pedro's defense claims that their client is mentally ill
After 18 days of deliberating, the jury declared a mistrial because one juror, Adam Sirois, said he could not overcome reasonable doubt because he believed Hernandez had mental problems
The defense says that the confession was compelled out of Hernandez, who is not tied to the case with any physical evidence
Notorious Court Cases Using the Insanity Plea
8. Flanagan, Mike. "Not Guilty." Cartoonstock. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
Jacobs, Shayna. "Man’s Confession to Killing Etan Patz Heard in Court." NY Daily News. Nydailynews, 15 Sept. 2014. Web.27 May 2015. <http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/new-jersey-man-confession-killing-etan-patz-played-court-article-1.1940185>.

11. Siff, Andrew. "Mistrial Declared in Etan Patz Murder Case After 3rd Deadlocked Jury." NBC New York. NBCUniversal
Media, 9 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 May 2015. <http://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Etan-Patz-Murder-Trial-Jury-Deadlock-Mistrial-Verdict-Hung-SoHo-Missing-Boy-1979-New-York-302760721.html>.
Shot president Reagan, a secret service agent, a police officer, and Reagan's press secretary
Claimed he was trying to impress actress, Jodie Foster
His compelling insanity defense case caused the jury to unanimously acquit him of 13 assault, murder, and weapon accounts
Committed to St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC, where he remains today...
Significance: Public outcry for abolition of the insanity plea. Caused 30 states to pass laws which made it more difficult to plead insane
Caused Congress to pass the Insanity Defense Reform Act, which also tightened standards
2. "Insanity Defense." Insanity Defense. Cornell University Law School, n.d. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://
3. "Insanity Plea Statistics." OccupyTheory. OccupyTheory, 02 Jan. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://occupytheory.org/
1. "Apecsec.org." Asia Pacific Economics Blog. APCESEC, 31 Mar. 2014. Web. 26 May 2015. <http://apecsec.org/insanity-
6. Aufderheide, Dean. "Mental Illness In America's Jails And Prisons: Toward A Public Safety/Public Health Model."
Mental Illness In America's Jails And Prisons: Toward A Public Safety/Public Health Model. Project HOPE, 1 Apr. 2014. Web. 27 May 2015. <http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2014/04/01/mental-illness-in-americas-jails-and-prisons-toward-a-public-safetypublic-health-model/>.
Trial Procedure
Defenders notify prosecutors that they plan to use the insanity defense. Make a dual-plea. Plea of NG and a plea of NGRI.
Defense lawyers and prosecutors each call their own psychiatrists to examine the defendant, however ultimately it is up to the jury to deem whether the patient is really insane
Defense lawyers must prove the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the crime
Legislation on the Mentally Ill
7. Cohn, Jonathan. "Robin Williams' Death Is a Wakeup Call for Mental Illness." New Republic. N.p., 12 Aug. 2014.
Web. 27 May 2015. <http://www.newrepublic.com/article/119055/remembering-robin-williams-and-his-struggles-mental-illness>.
10. Kliff, Sarah. "Seven Facts about America’s Mental Health-care System."
Washington Post. The Washington Post, 17 Dec. 2012. Web. 27 May 2015. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/17/seven-facts-about-americas-mental-health-care-system/>.
405 IlCS 45/ Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Persons Act
Defines mentally ill and ensures advocacy to protect the rights of mentally ill persons
The Mental Health Act of 1983 in England encourages integration rather than incarceration
Treat the mentally ill rather than sending them to mentally asylums or federal prisons
4. "MENTAL HEALTH STANDARDS AND HUMAN RIGHTS." Mental Disability Law Reporter 2.2/3 (1977): 291-303.
World Health Organization. WHO, 2003. Web. 27 May 2015. <http://www.who.int/mental_health/resources/en/Legislation.pdf>.
3. 9
5b. "Paul's Crime and Justice Page: Criminal Justice Ethics; Pt 1 Criminal Guilt - Insanity Defense." Paul's Crime and Justice Page: Criminal Justice Ethics;
Pt 1 Criminal Guilt - Insanity Defense. N.p., 2002. Web. 28 May 2015. <http://paulsjusticepage.com/cjethics/1-moralfound/insanity.htm>.
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