Judicial Process: The Insanity Defense Since 1724 Essay

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Judicial Process: The Insanity Defense

Since 1724, there have been records of the insanity defense being used in trials. Before that time, there was no difference in the eyes of the court between criminal behavior and mental illness, so people who were mentally ill did not get any special treatment and did not have the option to avoid punishment (including execution) just because they were mentally defective or damaged in some way. In 1986, the Supreme Court upheld the idea that it was not legal to execute a person who was insane (Schmalleger, 2001). A competency evaluation is required for anyone who is to be executed. Some states, including Montana, Kansas, Utah, and Idaho, have completely banned the insanity defense, and the Supreme Court has upheld their right to do that. Arizona has limited provisions for the insanity defense, and those provisions were also upheld by the Court in recent years.

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Generally, most people do not try to use the insanity defense because it is very hard to prove. The defense must show that the person is insane, and simply "acting crazy" is not going to be a sufficient defense. Each state has clear regulations as to what constitutes sufficient evidence for a person to be declared legally insane. If the person is not competent to stand trial and is actually deemed criminally insane, he or she may not even have any kind of trial regardless of the nature of the crime. Instead, the person may be placed into a mental facility and he or she can remain there indefinitely (Ellis, 1986). Sometimes, the goal of the mental facility will be to "make" the person competent to stand trial. This is usually done through medication, because proper medication for a previously unmedicated mental illness can make a lot of difference in how sane and rational a person is.

Essay on Judicial Process: The Insanity Defense Since 1724, Assignment

If a person can be medicated and made competent to stand trial, some prosecutors will still try the person (Walker, 1968). Other cases end up with the mentally ill (insane) person remaining in the mental facility for the rest of his or her life. At times, people can be helped through medication and therapy to the point that they can serve their time and be released back into society. For the severely criminally insane, though, this is not generally the case. Instead, they are often locked away in a mental health facility for the rest of their lives, or they are medicated and then tried for their crimes, after which they are incarcerated in prison for the length of their sentence - sometimes the rest of their lives (Gostin, 1982). While the insane cannot be executed, those who were insane and are now deemed sane do not have the same protection - and they are eligible for the death penalty in certain cases, if that was part of the deal when they were originally tried. For most people who were insane at the time their crime was committed, however, it is not possible for them to receive the death penalty even if they did something that would have warranted that type of punishment had they committed their crime while sane.

History of the Insanity Defense

The actual insanity defense can be traced back to the Ancient Romans and Greeks. Colonial America, however, was not as forgiving. Dorothy Talbye was hanged for killing her daughter in 1638 due to the lack of any distinction between mental illness and criminality (Gostin, 1982). English Common Law deemed a person insane if they basically had the capacity of a dumb animal. Most of the people who were insane were spared from a trial, which may have been why there were so few records of the issue. Eventually trial by jury became more common, and the jury would find the mentally ill person guilty of the crime (because he or she clearly did it) and then refer the case to the King. The idea was that the person should receive a Royal Pardon (Walker, 1968; Walker, 1985). Starting in 1500, it was possible for juries to acquit a person who was insane. In order to detain them, a separate civil procedure was required (Walker, 1985).

In 1800 the Criminal Lunatics Act was passed, and allowed Her Majesty to detain people who were insane at the time of their crimes (Schmalleger, 2001). Even if the people became sane later, they could still be detained indefinitely. It was up to Her Majesty as to whether she released them. Rules that were passed following that were similar to the rules that are used today in that the defendant had to have a mental defect, disease, or other problem that did not allow him to understand either what he was doing or why it was wrong. There is still much controversy over the insanity defense, but that is thought to be largely because the cases that use it are high-profile cases that are difficult to ignore and that are all over the media for weeks and sometimes months. It makes it appear that the insanity defense is being used quite frequently, when in fact that is far from the truth of the matter.

Florida Statutes and the Insanity Defense

In the state of Florida, Title XLVI Crimes Section 775.01 is the statute that relates to the insanity defense (Florida, 2010). This defense is that is called an "affirmative defense," in that all of the people who are brought to trial and who use this defense are presumed to be sane unless they are able to prove otherwise (Florida, 2010). Just like people are innocent until proven guilty, they are sane until proven insane. This makes it harder for a person to claim this defense, but it is certainly not impossible. To establish insanity as a defense, two things have to happen: (a) the defendant must have a mental defect, disease, or infirmity, and (b) the defendant, because of his or her condition, must either not know what he or she did or not know that it was wrong (Florida, 2010). That can be a very difficult thing to prove in some cases, especially for people who are really not insane but who are trying to plead insanity so that they will get an easier sentence for their crimes.

The burden of proof is on the defendant to show that he or she is insane, not on the other party to show that he or she is not insane (Florida, 2010). Clear and convincing evidence must be presented by the defense before the insanity plea can be used, but the statute does not specify what "clear and convincing evidence" entails. People who are just angry or who have some mental problems that are not sufficient to render them legally "insane" also cannot use the insanity defense to avoid paying for their crimes. For example, it is not possible for a person who is suffering from depression, anxiety, or a related condition to plead insanity if they have killed someone. It is possible that depression and anxiety can cause a person to do things he or she would not normally do, but they do not render a person insane. Pleading insanity is relatively uncommon in every state, because it can be so difficult for the defense to convince a judge and jury that his or her client honestly did not know what he or she was doing, or that the actions he or she took were wrong. Only around 1% of people who are convicted of serious crimes try to use an insanity defense (Burns, 2011).

If a person is successful in raising an insanity defense in Florida, he or she would be among only a few who have done so. In April of 1990, an 18-year-old woman who drowned her newborn son in the toilet in her college dormitory successfully used the defense (Brennan, 2011). Before that, it was successfully used 14 years prior for an ex-Tampa City Councilman who had killed his son (Brennan, 2011). According to Brennan (2011), it is very unlikely that anyone will "get away with" an insanity defense. Most jurors want to see someone punished for their crimes, and they do not feel like life in a mental institution will be punishment. Incarceration in prison would be a better choice to them, but many people who are in prison are mentally ill. That may have contributed to their crimes, but it certainly was not enough for them to use an insanity defense.

Another issue with the insanity defense is whether the person did anything that appeared to be premeditated (Brennan, 2011). In other words, did the person buy a gun, or establish an alibi, or do something else that could be construed as plotting or planning for his or her crime? If so, that person will be less likely to have an insanity plea accepted, because legally insane people do not plan out their crimes. They simply act. A person can be "crazy" and not be insane,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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