Apr 9, 2019 in Law

Insanity Defense

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According to Heaton and De (2010), insanity is one of the defenses used by an accused or a defendant in a criminal court of law to avoid or reduce liability in regards to the crime committed. Therefore, any criminal offender found to be legally insane cannot be held liable for actions that have resulted from his or her mental condition. To formulate courts’ decision for the defendant in relation to insanity, the prosecuting attorney must attest that at the period when the crime was committed, the defendant was not in a position to appreciate the quality or nature of the wrongfulness of his or her actions. However, defendants who do not necessarily have a mental illness sometimes taint this defense by using it as a strategic way to lessen their sentences. As a result, the issue about the validity of this defense in criminal cases has raised many questions as to whether it is a legitimate practice in protecting the innocent or just a scapegoat to lessen sentences for those who are not mentally ill. Therefore, this essay is going to support the fact that insanity is a legitimate defense used to protect the innocent, but not a scapegoat and a means to escape punishment by the guilty and sane.

Insanity Defense

In order to determine the state of individual’s mind and his or her culpable inclination, the court uses several tests that enable it to test individuals to ensure that the innocent with the unsound mind are protected and that the guilty are punished. The tests are the M’Naghten rule, which determines the ability of individuals to comprehend or differentiate the wrongfulness or nature of their actions. It tests whether the defendant has a guilty mind (Weiner & Craighead, 2010). A clear example illustrating this is the case of R v. Burgess (1991), heard in the court of appeal, which ruled that the defendant who used a video recorder to wound a woman while sleepwalking was insane under the M’Naghten rule. Lord Lane, who presided over the hearing and the judgment, stated that, “We accept that sleep is a normal condition, but the evidence in the instant case indicates that sleepwalking, and particularly violence in sleep, is not normal” (R v. Burgess, 1991). Another test called the Durham Rule was created by a federal judge during the hearing of the case Durham v. United States (1954). In this case, the judge decided to overturn Durham’s conviction and introduced a new standard stating that for one to be found legally insane, he or she must be suffering from a mental disease or defect, and the latter must be the reason that had motivated him to act in an unlawful manner (Fersch, 2005). Another test called the Model Penal Code was created by the American Law Institute it in 1962. The principal purpose of its establishment was to provide remedies to the criticism of both the Durham and M’Naghten rule. It consolidated counterarguments by stating that for a defendant to be branded legally insane, he or she must lack a considerable ability to appreciate the delinquency of his or her conduct or to kowtow to the necessities of the law (Dubber, 2015).

The insanity defense is not used very often; nevertheless, it is a principal component of the criminal justice system of any state in the globe. It is because it allows the system to protect the severely mentally ill and to maintain equally its lawfulness and integrity. Court systems believe that for any crime to happen, both a guilty mind (mens rea) and a guilty act (actus reus) must occur. For instance, the case of Sweet v. Parsley (1970) indicates that mens rea is a principal component of a true crime. As a result, the insanity defense acknowledges the fact that in the face of the law a minority group (the mentally challenged) lacks the ability to form necessary mens rea. They, they should not be held liable for a crime committed in their innocent minds. Therefore, this rule is a true implication that insanity defense is a legitimate practice in protecting the innocent.

The Practice of Protecting the Innocent

No matter controversies that arise from determining whether the defendant is a person of unstable mind or not, this defense is accompanied by many significances, which create a stronger foundation for its use as a practice of protecting the innocent. Practicing the insanity defense ensures that the criminal justice system portrays fairness and impartibility since almost every society strives for a rational and independent system. Therefore, it leads to fairness and truthfulness among all citizens living in any state that allows insanity as a defense in its court of law. According to Livings, Reed, and Wake (2015), if persons with the unstable mind raised personal standards, it would make the criminal justice system be branded as unjust. However, if the latter acts otherwise, it surely will use the insanity defense in a legitimate way of protecting innocent offenders.

Similarly, through the insanity defense, the justice system can prove that its main objective is the protection of the innocent but not providing a scapegoat for those guilty to lessen their sentence. Through this, it is evident that it pays great attention to mentally ill offenders. it is because the system chooses to handle cases of legally insane individuals differently as compared to those of sane people. However, to ensure that the system is efficient, the court must draw a thin line between a mental illness and insanity. It is of great significance since it will ensure that only legally insane individuals are exempted from the wrath of the court. As a result, an individual may suffer from a mental illness, yet he or she does not gratify the constraints bounded by law for him or her to be considered legally insane (Livings, Reed, & Wake, 2015).

Symbolically, the existence of the insanity defense in protecting the innocent sends a very strong message to society and the government that the system maintains its integrity through paying great attention to reducing crime and preserving its rudiments. The most common elements in crime are actus reus and mens rea, as mentioned earlier in this analysis above. For instance, in the case of Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v. Stockwain (1986), the defendant who was of sound mind was charged under Section 58 (2) of the Medicines Act of 1968. Therefore, for any prosecutor to find any individual responsible for a crime committed, he or she is supposed to prove two elements in detail beyond reasonable doubt. As a result, in cases where the prosecutor cannot prove the sanity or the insanity of the accused, the court is bound to determine its ruling about a legally proclaimed insane person. If this is honored, its purpose is to state that the insanity defense is highly used as a stepping-stone to protect the innocent, but not to create a platform for the sane and guilty to evade a legal punishment.

Likewise, for any criminal justice system to fully perform with a single intention of using insanity defense as a way of protecting the innocent only, it must equally respect the rights of the defendant. Therefore, the latter suffering from a mental illness should not be put under medication, and upon appearing in the court, he or she can be seen in the exact state, in which he or she was when committing a crime. For instance, in the case of Riggins v. Nevada (1992), defendant David Riggins was charged with crimes of robbing and murdering Paul Wade, who was a resident of Las Vegas. While in custody, the defendant complained that he heard endless voices in his head and that he was suffering from insomnia. As a result, a jail psychiatrist prescribed him 100 milligrams of Mellaril per day. As if that was not enough, by the time of the hearing, Riggins had taken 800 milligrams of Mellaril. As a result, the defendant’s attorney moved to the court to stop the administration of Mellaril to his client since he stated that it would affect his client’s outward appearance in the court during a trial and his overall defense. While, under medication, the defendant was put behind bars for life, but upon appeal, the court ruled that the concession of Riggins trial rights was a revocable fault. Therefore, this case is a clear indication that the criminal justice system clearly and strictly uses the insanity defense in protecting the innocent.


In conclusion, it is evident that implementing the insanity defense is not an easy endeavor. It is because of a great number of individuals pretend to be legally insane to evade the law. However, the criminal justice system has taken all adequate measures to ensure that it uses this defense rule for the right purpose, in this case, defending the innocent (legally insane individuals).

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