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If an individual has been known and acknowledges that they have committed a crime, but they were mentally unwell at the time of the incident, they can plea insanity. In this case, an individual must argue that due to mental illness, they were unable to control their actions and at the time, did not understand that they were committing an illegal action (Francone, 2016). In order to make an insanity plea, individuals must prove that they are competent to stand trial (Francone, 2016). That is, that they are legally competent to communicate with attorneys and other court personnel throughout the proceedings, and that they understand why they are currently standing trial (Francone, 2016). To plea insanity within a trial, the individual must be able to prove their mental impairment, which can be done in a variety of ways. Within this paper, I will discuss the ways that individuals can and cannot prove insanity, what the punishment of an individual should be if insanity is proven, and the costs of the plea for both the courts, as well as the defendant. To examine the insanity plea, I will research M’Naghten’s case, the Durham Test, American Law Institute Test, and other references from the APUS Library. This paper will argue whether the insanity defense is a valid in criminal cases, what kind of assessment or test could be used to prove if a person is criminally insane, and how we can deem these tests valid. It will contribute to our understanding of criminal law by allowing us to explore the complexities of how and why individuals plea insanity, how we can know if their pleas are true, and how we can determine new measures for dealing with criminally insane individuals.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
For the legal system to balance the fairness of mental illness with the punishments of certain crimes, they must ensure that those who have committed dangerous crimes are kept under careful watch, whether they be simply monitored or committed to a facility. Within the Canadian Legal System, there is a basic principle stating that for an individual to be convicted of a crime “the state must prove not only a wrongful act, but also a guilty mind” (Pilon, 2002). Further, they state that if a person is mentally unwell, and they were unable to understand their actions at the time they took place, then they cannot be held criminally liable (Pilon, 2002). While there have been many ways to handle criminally ill individuals over the years, what a prosecutor can do in Canada is limited by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This Charter indicates that individuals found to be criminally insane cannot simply be locked up, as it violates their rights to a fair trial (Pilon, 2002). Further, as per Bill-C30 of the criminal code, if a person is found to be criminally insane, then the courts have two choices: they could decide on the defendant’s punishment themselves, or they could refer the defendant to a review board (Pilon, 2002). Once the defendant has been detained in a facility by the courts, they are held for a statutory amount of time. However, once this time ends the courts have the option of re-committing them to a care facility if they are still deemed to be dangerous to the public or themselves (Pilon, 2002). This detainment is involuntary, and the courts have the option to hold the offenders for up to lifetime sentences, if required (Pilon, 2002). Like the rehabilitation facilities in prisons, when mentally ill individuals make a successful insanity plea and are sent to a care facility to be detained, they must receive regular mental health treatments. This is in hope that the treatments will prevent further deterioration of their cognitive states, and that they will help to rehabilitate them towards re-integrating into society (Pilon, 2002). The difficult part for courts and judges when deciding upon the sentence for a mentally ill individual is that if they did not realize their crime, then it seems unjust to send them to prison. However, if they committed a serious criminal offense, such as murder, then it would be unsafe to let them loose in the public, even if the offense was unrealized. In these cases, the courts must decide whether the individual should simply receive mental health care from home, or whether they should be sent to a facility for the criminally insane (Cornell Law, 2008). In addition to this, courts may send defendants to short-term rehabilitation facilities in lieu of a sentence. If an individual has not received care for their mental illness in the past, then sometimes a short-term care facility can help introduce them to coping mechanisms and medications to aid them in functioning normally throughout their everyday lives (Cornell Law, 2008). With this in mind, it is important that courts understand the extent of the defendant’s mental illness, what aid they have received in the past, and whether their condition could be approved before deciding upon a sentence. Through this, the courts can ensure that mentally ill individuals are most efficiently and effectively dealt with and rehabilitated following a criminal offense, preventing future offenses and creating safer communities.
Criminal courts must be able to distinguish the extent of the cognitive state of those accused before they can effectively sentence them. Within criminal trials, pleas of insanity can sometimes be used as a last-ditch effort in order to avoid lengthy prison sentences. Because of this, it is important that the courts develop an efficient way to determine whether or not a plea of insanity is based on truth or falsehood. The first insanity pleas can be dated back to 1843 in the M’Naghten case, when a mentally ill individual (Daniel M’Naghten), murdered the assistant to the Prime Minister of England (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). Throughout the trial, the defense called upon physicians to prove his insanity, while the prosecution attempted to prove the opposite. When the judge declared in the defense’s favor, the Queen of England responded by hiring fifteen judges to analyze M’Naghten’s case and come up with a test for insanity for future trials (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). This test involved asking the jury two questions: “did the defendant know what he was doing when he committed the crime?”, and “did the defendant understand that his actions were wrong?” (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). This meant that the prosecutor had to prove to the jury that the defendant understood his crime and the consequences, while the defense had to prove that he did not. This test was used within criminal trials in the United States from M’Naghten’s ruling up until 1962, where the states began to switch to a Model Penal Code (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). In addition to this rule, many of the states also adopted the “Irresistible Impulse” test as an alternative or supplement to the M’Naghten rule in the early 20th century. This test asked whether the defendant was able to prevent themselves from committed the crime they were on trial for; some mental illnesses prevent individuals from resisting their impulses (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). While the M’Naghten and Irresistible Impulse rules were a good step in the right direction in terms of mental health, they were not sufficient to keep up with modern psychological principles moving into the mid-20th century. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]With the onset of new psychological research following World War II, the Durham Test was developed in 1954, following the case of Durham v. United States (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). In contrast to the M’Naghten rule, this test required the jury be asked two different questions: “did the defendant have a mental disease or defect?”, and “if so, was the disease or defect the reason for the unlawful act” (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). If the answer to both questions was “yes”, then the individual could be granted a plea of insanity. While this test improved upon the original ones, it did not hold up well in the country, and by 1972, the American Law Institute Test was adopted. The American Law Institute drafted their Model Penal Code in 1962 to improve upon all the earlier tests and rules that had been developed (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). The result was a sort of combination of the M’Naghten rule and Irresistible Impulse tests, which made it so a defendant could be declared insane if they simply did not have the cognitive capacity to distinguish between right and wrong, and included a section to account for a defendant’s inability to control their actions, impulses, or conduct (Collins, Hinkebein, & Schorgl, 2015). The evolution of these tests and rules have greatly expanded the knowledgebase of insanity within courtrooms. In addition to this, the publicity these tests have received has allowed for courts to invest more time and resources into better researching mental illness and how they can be effectively dealt with and treated. Through continued research and implementation of these tests, judges and courts can have a better idea of whether an individual is able to plea for insanity or not, which can enhance both the efficiency of the trial, as well as the fairness of the outcomes.
While there has been much research and evolution in the tests for insanity, more investigation is required before an insanity plea can become more clear-cut in the courtroom. In order for the investigation of insanity pleas to become more straight-forward in criminal cases, more individuals should be trained as specialists to assist in these trials. If professionals are able to come into the trials as experts, then they can assist courtrooms in providing more efficient trials in cases of pleas of insanity. In addition to this, they can be hired to train correctional officers in how to rehabilitate mentally ill individuals, as well as helping to create prison mental health services, for cases where mental illness is mild or unclear (Math, Kumas, & Moirangthem, 2015). It is common for expert witnesses to come into the courtroom to plead for a defendant in cases of insanity. However, if an insanity plea is made, then the court should call in an expert forensic psychologist to oversee and give unbiased advice throughout the entire trial, rather than just as a witness (Math, Kumas, & Moirangthem, 2015). These professionals could give recommendations, analyze evidence and behaviors within and outside of the courtroom, and provide the most efficient method for determining mental illness. The current tests for insanity are sufficient for small-scale trials and less serious crimes, however larger criminal offenses should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis with the help of experts. Further, if these professionals kept data on the trials and used them as research, then they could additionally compile data and analyze it to have a better understanding of why people plea for insanity, how often the plea is true, and how they can know if the defendant is lying about their condition. Through these methods, the current tests for insanity could be tested for validity and improved, leading to mental illness and insanity pleas being handled in the court room with faster and more accurate results, leading to a more efficient environment. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here.]
Throughout this paper, the validity of the insanity test was explored, in addition to the current and past assessments available, and the methods used to determine the legitimacy of these tests. It was found that if the pleas for insanity are valid, then the courts must decide how to sentence the individuals, based upon the extent of their mental illness. This means that the courts must find a way to balance the fairness of a proper punishment with the proper rehabilitation for the individual’s illness, in order to prevent their cognitive state from degrading and possibly improve their state in the future. In addition to this, the evolution of the tests for insanity were examined, and it was determined that while the tests are extensive, they still require further research before they can be more usefully utilized within courtrooms. To accomplish this, the idea of training professional forensic psychologists or psychiatrists specifically for the task of assisting in these trials was explored. This would aid in compiling a database of the results of insanity pleas, to help researchers create longitudinal and repeatability studies to understand how they are made, how often they are valid, and how they are dealt with. Through this, the researchers will be able to create better tests for insanity, improving the outcomes of future trials.
Collins, K., Hinkebein, G., & Schorgl, S. (2015). EVOLUTION OF THE INSANITY PLEA. Retrieved from UMKC:
Cornell Law. (2008). The ‘insanity defense’ and diminished capacity .
Francone, E. (2016, July). Insanity defense. Retrieved from Cornell Univeristy Law School:
Math, S. B., Kumas, C. N., & Moirangthem, S. (2015, October). Insanity Defense: Past, Present, and Future. Retrieved from NCBI:
Pilon, M. (2002, January 22). MENTAL DISORDER AND CANADIAN CRIMINAL LAW. Retrieved from Law and Government Division: