The Insanity Defense Essay Research Paper Equal

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The Insanity Defense Essay, Research Paper Equal justice for the unequal. # For these few who cannot be held accountable for there actions because of mental disability or disease this statement is surly there savuor. The ideal in a free society is that all of its members shall be equal under the law they have chosen to govern them, that they shall share the same rights and responsibilities, and that if they violate their laws they will be punished no differently than their peers, and judged according to a collective sense of justice rather than by the individuals of society. But what about the individual who does not realize he/she has committed a crime against society? The question that is raised here is not along the lines of should an individual be punished for his/her

crime, but more on the matter of did the individual know that the crime, which he/she had committed, was wrong. This is where the fine line between the guilty and the legally insane is created. There has long been a strong belief that persons who commit crimes as a result of mental illness should not be held criminally responsible because they lack the criminal intent to commit the acts; this belief forms the core of the insanity defense today in the United States. The insanity defense is a plea option in which the defendant seeks acquittal for the alleged criminal offense by reason of insanity. In this paper I will discuss the history of the insanity defense and the controversy that now surrounds the issue in today s society. I will start by giving an historical perspective on

the formation of the insanity defense, followed by the landmark trial of Daniel McNaughton, which established the guidelines that would set the standard for nearly a century to come in determining the sanity of the defendant. Lastly, I will discuss the current controversy in American society over the use of the insanity plea in the American criminal justice system. Throughout most of history there has been no specific criteria for the insanity defense, after all, it was not necessary in a relatively small community where everyone knew the offender. Ancient Hebraic law stated simply that idiots, lunatics, and children below a certain age ought not to be held criminally responsible, because they could not distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, and where thus blameless in the

eyes of God and man. The Greek and Roman legal texts say nothing at all on the matter, though a section of Plato s Laws specifically provides that if a criminal defendant is senile, a child, or is proven insane, he should be responsible for no more than the payment of civil damages, except that if he has killed someone and his hands are polluted by murder, he must depart to a place in another country and live there in exile for a year, # In the centuries to follow, the instructions that were actually given in courts on how to deal with the insanity defense varied enormously. Most judges then, as now, had very little experience with insanity cases or madmen, and were forced to rely on whatever sources they could find. Unfortunately, many statements originally intended as

illustrative arguments rather than exclusive definitions of insanity were adopted in this way by the legal profession and transformed through repetition into standardized rules. Thus it was stated, that a madman lacks mind and reason, and is not much removed from a brute # The most common definition used to define insanity was the knowledge of good and evil test. In the seventeenth-century, legal commentators Edward Coke and Matthew Hale both recognized the difficulty of defining the range of insanity. Coke pointed out that there were not only idiots and the chronically insane, but episodic lunatics, who were sometimes mad but who, during lucid intervals, must be held accountable for their crimes. Hale also added those suffering from partial insanity, where the lunatic had an