Essay on Insanity Please in Law

Published: 2021/11/15
Number of words: 2067


Insanity please entails using mental defects as a defense to criminal acts committed. In this regard, one lacks the prerequisite mental capacity to distinguish between what is right or wrong (Daftary-kapur et al. 2011). In the American law, one is considered legally insane if he/she had a set of persistent mental problems at the time the charged offense occurred. In this case, the act of crime was not based on the intents of the defendant. In healthcare and medicine, mental illness/retardness entails an individual lacking the required mental capacity to appreciate and accept the form and quality of their wrongful conduct. Insanity is a mood disorder that impairs with one ability to make correct and sound decisions (Manguno-Mire et al., 2007). An individual is said to be mentally retarded if he/she exhibits below average mental capacity. However, there is a clear-cut difference between NGRI and GBMI. The NGRI is a complete affirmative defense. If it is won, one is wholly acquitted from his/her offenses. It is usually on the burden of the defendant to prove his/her mental incapacity. On the other hand, GBMI is not a defense in its entirety (Memon, 2006). Thus if one wins a GBMI, he/she is not entirely acquitted of his/her offenses.. The only difference is that individual mental treatment will be accorded to the defendant. In this essay, we inspect whether mentally disarranged guilty parties ought to be considered in charge of their mental issues and any offenses committed while under their state of mental incapacity.

Historical Background of Insanity plea

Legal insanity as a defense mechanism can be traced back to the 1581 English legal treatise. The treatise stated that if a madman or lunatic commit a criminal offense during his/her state of lunacy, he/she should not be held legally accountable. In the 18th Century, British courts came up with the Wildebeest test. The wildebeest test stated that the offendant should not be held criminally liable if he/she did not understand the act of crime better than an infant, wildebeest or a lunatic. Currently the terms lunatic and wildebeest are no longer used in the courts .The insanity pleas was incorporated in the British courts in the 19th Century in the form of the M’Naughteen rule. The M’Naughteen rule is applicable in many states currently. In the USA, in the states where legal insanity is accorded room, the courts use a combination of legal jurisdictions to assess the legal pleas (Mitchell, 1999). According to the M’Naughteen rule, the defendant cannot distinguish between what is legally correct or wrong due to a mental disorder. The irresistible impulse test argues that due to the mental disorder condition the defendant was unable to control his/her impulses leading to the act of crime. Further, the Durham rule argues that irrespective of the findings from clinical diagnosis, the defendant’s mental disorder resulted in him/her committing the crime. Additionally, the model penal code test for legal insanity states that because of the psychological disorder the litigant was not able decide the guiltiness of his/her activities. In the USA, not all states allow for the use of insanity pleas as a defense to criminal charges. The states of Idaho, Kansas, Utah, and Montana are some of the states that do not allow for the use of the insanity pleas. For the states that allow for legal insanity, they use the M’Naughteen rule as the criterion for establishing legal insanity. The Durham rule is only used in the state of New Hampshire.

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Arguments in Favor of Insanity Plea

Mentally disorder individuals should not be held liable for the offenses committed during their state of mental incapacity. The main reason behind this is that people have a misconception about what constitutes insanity pleas (Rodgers, 1987). Many folks usually think that the insanity plea is a leverage mechanism for the complete acquittal of criminal cases, which is not the case. In the GBMI scenario, the defendant is not entirely acquitted but is instead taken to a prison and given mental treatment. In some of the cases, the GBMI mental treatment period is even longer than the average jail term (Silver, 1995). Thus, in this regard, the insanity plea is not leverage for the acquittal of charges. Perhaps surprising is that the insanity plea is used in only one percent of the felony cases. The acquittal rate in this cases stands at 26 %.Therefore this means that the insanity plea is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card. Besides numerous tests are used to determine the authenticity of the insanity plea. It is thus apparent that it is practically impossible to fake insanity. The M’Naughteen rule, irresistible impulse test, and the model penal code are all used to determine the authenticity of the insanity defense. Perhaps this explains the low percentages in the felony cases and the low acquittal rate in those cases. It is equally essential that the insanity defense is only provided to those who need it. It is not offered to any random individual and is provided to ensure equality and justice is upheld by the law. Thus, in this regard, it would be unfair denying individuals who are in need of it. Therefore, this can be understood to be mean that while there are isolated individuals who commit heinous and criminal acts that are insane, the insanity defense does not provide a crime-free gate pass to them. The arguments against it are only based on misconceptions.

According to the American Judicial system, one is convicted if their actions warrant convictions. According to data obtained from the National Institute of Mental health (NIMH), about 19 % of Americans experience some form of mental illness. Therefore, this means that approximately 20 million Americans are suffering some mental illness. Again, from the data, 45 percent of these mental illnesses cases are untreated. At least forty percent of adults with schizophrenia and fifty percent of people with serious bipolar disorders hardly receive any treatment in one year. From the data, therefore it is evident that by allowing mental disorder patients to be held liable for their criminal actions, it means that we are ignorant of the high prevalence rates of mental incapacity in the USA (Warren et al., 2004). By holding mentally ill individual persons responsible for their criminal acts means, we are unfair to them (Tarescavage et al., 2017). Therefore punishing individuals because of mental incapacity is not only unfair but also unjust. The mentally ill individuals cannot be held criminally liable for their actions primarily because it can be shown that they lacked the prerequisite mental insight to differentiate between acceptable and non acceptable acts.

Moreover, the insanity defense facilitates the creation of both an atmosphere and aura of guilt. The insanity plea is not in any way related to denying the existence of the criminal acts. In the insanity defense, their defendant admits that they committed the crime. Evidently, this creates an element of guilt (Torry et al., 2010). The defendant and all parties alike are aware of the heinous act committed. What the defendant attempts to show that is that they did not have the mental threshold required to differentiate between what is right and wrong. It is not a blanket excuse for innocence. An individual with a legal, mental illness condition cannot commit a crime knowingly whether they are in a state of the mens area or not (Smith, 2012). Evidently, this abhors them from being held legally accountable. Therefore, by abolishing it, we are facilitating room for a cruel and unjust form of punishment. The widespread public distrust for crime perpetrators should not be used as a concrete reason for invalidating the existence of criminal acts based on mental incapacity. Further, it has been shown that a lengthy process is involved in the determination of whether an individual should be held acquitted based on insanity pleas.

Argument against Insanity Plea

On the other side, it can be argued that criminals are criminals their mental state notwithstanding. Therefore, this means that criminals deserve punishment for their acts regardless of their mental states. In the judicial system, what is punished is the act committed and not the individual on his/her own. The issue of mental incapacity is highly subjective. There is no standard definition of what constitutes insanity. In fact, the concept of insanity is prone to distortion and misinterpretation by doctors and psychiatrists alike. For instance, some individuals have been shown to report that demons are insane which people from other quarters consider illogical. Thus by allowing for the existence of the insanity pleas in the American judicial system facilitates the introduction of subjectivity in the legal system.

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Also, it can also be argued that the criminals usually use the insanity plea as an excuse. The fact is a vast majority of the offenders plan their heinous acts. For instance, the Colorado shooting was a planned event. Andréa Yates planned his heinous act. These individuals only admitted their state of mental incapacity when reprimanded. One would then want to establish how a mentally ill person can meticulously plan and organize a heinous act. Furthermore, it can be argued that any person who attempts murder is insane. Any morally upright and sane person cannot commit murder. Thus, only insane individuals commit all acts of murder, and therefore insanity cannot be used as a defense mechanism for these individuals. Otherwise, all these criminal acts will have no one responsible for them. It can also be seen as an avoidance of responsibility. The American Judicial system argues that individuals should be held accountable for their criminal acts. Thus in instances where one uses insanity to escape responsibility, this leads to the question who is then supposed to be held responsible for the various acts of crime.


For long, the American society has held a consensus on the distinction between those individuals who should be held criminally liable for their actions and those who should not. It is widely recognized that mentally ill individuals do not possess the required mental ability to distinguish what constitutes right or wrong. Therefore, on this basis, it is essential for the insanity plea to exist to ensure the judicial system is not only just but also fair. Furthermore, despite the fears of the public, a vast majority of defendants in America do not abuse the insanity defense, As it was on the insanity defense was invoked in only one percent of felony cases and had an acquittal rate of 25 percent. The proponents of the removal of the insanity plea base their argument on the misconception of the insanity plea.


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Manguno-Mire, G. M., Thompson Jr., J. W., Bertman-Pate, L. J., Burnett, D. R., & Thompson, W. (2007). Are release recommendations for NGRI acquittees informed by relevant data?. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 25(1), 43-55.

Memon, R. (2006). Legal theory and case law defining the insanity defense in English and Welsh law. Journal Of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology, 17(2), 230-252.

Mitchell, E. W. (1999). Madness and meta-responsibility: The culpable causation of mental disorder and the insanity defense. Journal Of Forensic Psychiatry, 10(3), 597-622.

Rogers, R. (1987). APA’s position on the insanity defense: empiricism versus emotionalism. American Psychologist, 42,840-848.

Silver, E. (1995). Punishment or treatment? Comparing the lengths of confinement of successful and unsuccessful insanity defendants. Law And Human Behavior, 19(4), 375-388.

Smith, S. s. (2012). Neuroscience, Ethics, and Legal Responsibilities: The Problem of the Insanity Defense. Science & Engineering Ethics, 18(3), 475-481.

Tarescavage, A. M., Jones, L. L., & Lee, T. C. (2017). Bridging the Gap Between Conventional and Standardized Competency to Stand Trial (CST) Assessments: An Examination of Defendant Answers to Conventional CST Questions. Law & Human Behavior (American Psychological Association), 41(6), 530-540.

Torry, Z. D., & Billick, S. B. (2010). Overlapping Universe: Understanding Legal Insanity and Psychosis. Psychiatric Quarterly, 81(3), 253-262.

Warren, J. I., Murrie, D. C., Chauhan, P., Dietz, P. E., & Morris, J. (2004). Opinion formation in evaluating sanity at the time of the offense: an examination of 5175 pre-trial Evaluations. Behavioral Sciences & The Law, 22(2), 171-186.

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