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Plea Insanity

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The “Insanity” Plea

The “Insanity” Plea
A criminal defendant who is found to have been legally insane in the course of committing a crime is relieved the criminal responsibility by the virtue of suffering from a mental disease (Findlaw, 2015). In some cases, the accused may be sentenced to a less severe sentence or punishment after being found on the wrong side of the law because of the mental impairment. Many nations allow the insanity defense in their legal systems. However, the accused must prove to the court that they were not on their senses or acted upon uncontrolled impulse or some variety of these factors when doing the wrongful doings. The general sense of insanity plea is to provide the alleged perpetrator of the criminal offense a fair trial. The society is even in agreement with this principle in extreme cases. Nonetheless, the major challenge falls on where to draw the line. That is, the circumstances where one can be considered insane and instances when he or she is not. It is worth noting that, no matter how appealing the crime itself is, it doesn’t demonstrate the level of insanity.
Today, the legal systems use way too much of the insanity defenses. While there are many questionable defense tactics, insanity plea targets to protect the rights of the accused and further the course of justice. This paper discusses the insanity plea as used in the legal systems in the present times.
What is the main purpose of insanity plea? How did it find its way past the corridors of justice to the courtrooms? Well, insanity plea found its place in the legal system after the courts found it really difficult to identify those who were truly insane. It was found to be fair for the mentally ill persons to have the insanity defense because their mental capacity differs from that of the sane and healthy individuals.
The history of the insanity defense dates back in the 16th-century. Traces of its recognition was first recorded in 1581 in an English legal treatise that stated if a lunatic, a natural fool or a madman killed someone in the course of his or her lunacy, they would not be held accountable (Findlaw, 2015). In the 18th-century, the courts in Britain came up with a “wild beast” test whereby the defendants could not be convicted if their understanding of the crime was not better than that of the wild beast, brute or an infant. In Hebrews, during the ancient times, the law stated that the children under a specific age, lunatics as well as the idiots were not be held responsible after having committed a criminal offense.
While the terms such as the wild beast and lunatic are no longer used in courts today, the current laws give room for the insanity defense to follow the same logic. The insanity plea was codified into law in Britain in the midst of the 19th-century. The M’Naughten Rule that is used in many states in the U.S. as well as in many countries around the world is enforceable today (Findlaw, 2015). The insanity plea was conceived when Daniel McNaughten tried to assassinate Robert Peel, the British Prime Minister in the year 1843. He instead killed the secretary to the prime minister but he was declared not guilty by the court. The U.S. criminal justice system accepted the insanity plea after the trials.
Test for Legal Insanity
Various ways can be used to test for legal insanity depending on the jurisdiction. Courts may choose to use one of the tests or combine them to check for legal insanity. The M’Naghten Rule as mentioned earlier is one of the tests. In this case, either the defendant did not distinguish between right and wrong because of the mental illness or didn’t understand his or her actions. The second test is the Irresistible Impulse where it takes note of an existence of a mental disease that made the defendant not to control his impulses leading to the criminal act. The other test is the Durham Rule that doesn’t take note of the clinical diagnosis but accepts the criminal act was committed out of the defendant’s mental illness. The last test is the Model Penal Code. The test follows that since the defendant is diagnosed with a mental illness, he or she was unable to understand the acts were criminal offenses or was incapacitated to act according to the law.
Trial Procedure
The defendants have to communicate to the prosecutors before the trial that they have the intentions of relying on the insanity defense. Normally, the prosecutors and the defense attorney will both obtain their psychiatrists to carry out an examination of the defendant (, 2015). They are also to testify during the trials. For the destitute defendants, the judges appoint the psychiatrists that are paid by the government to examine them. Here the actual burden lies on the defendants to convince the judges through the use of clear substantiation that the accused was mentally ill at the time of committing the offense. The rules concerning the evidence forbids the psychiatrist of the defendant from testifying or giving his opinion about the defendant being mentally ill or insane at the time the offense was committed. The rules only allow them to give a medical diagnosis regarding the mental illness of the defendants.
One would think that if a defendant is declared not guilty by the court, then he is set free but that is rarely the case. The defendants are always taken to the mental health institutions where they are confined (, 2015). Surprisingly, the are even confined for a longer time than the one they could serve if found guilty and sentenced. The courts may as well rule that the defendants stay put in the mental institutions until the judge is convinced that they are legally insane anymore.
Myths about Insanity Plea
There have been many myths about insanity plea that has claimed that insanity defense lets criminals get away with the crime. It has also been thought that it is a lame excuse for grave crimes and, therefore, should not be considered in the trials. In many criminal cases more so in murder trials, the defendants to avoid and escape death penalty or life sentences use insanity defense as a strategy. Many of the crime perpetrators found not guilty on the grounds of insanity are taken to the mental health institutions but are released sooner than they would have spend in prison if they were found guilty of the offenses. In reality, the defendants escape punishments that befit their committed crimes.
Conversely, research has dispelled the myths that claimed insanity plea and defense enables criminals to get away with the crimes and releases the crime perpetrators back to the streets too soon (, 2015). The research has shown that the insanity defense offered by the defendants is just about one percent of the total felony cases. Again, their success rate is very minimal at about a quarter of the total. On the other hand, contrary to the popular opinion, the defendants who are declared not guilty on the grounds of insanity are always confined for many years in the mental institutions. In some instances, the period is even more than the one that they could serve had they been found guilty and sentenced. In addition, the same research concluded that very few defendants fake to having been insane while the majority that are found not guilty because of insanity had a clear mental illness and a long history on the same.
Pros and Cons
While a coin has two sides, insanity plea has both benefits and weaknesses. On the positive, it creates a guilty atmosphere since for it to work; the defendants must admit that the crime was committed although the defendant did not commit it on purpose. The other pro is that the insanity plea can save a life in the event the offender committed a crime and he is mentally ill then he can be saved by the defense. Considering that all the capital crimes are punished by a death sentence, the mentally ill offender is excused from the capital punishment. Since no one wishes to be ill, and the fact that the crime was committed under the inability to detect what is wrong and right, lenient sentencing is done. The leniency in the charges can be a likely acquittal and even a no jail term.
On the cons of insanity plea, it is abolished in various jurisdictions and that is to say, it is not accepted in every court. This arises the need to have the case transferred, which again is nearly impossible. Insanity defense also comes with increased trial costs. The defense will have to hire specialists to do the examination and evaluation on the defendant so as to determine the level of mental incapacity. While a majority of the offenders will push for a standing plea, still many will be found able to stand trial. The juries and judges have become extra mindful because the insanity plea has been abused in the past. The plea can be either accepted or rejected and thus there is no guarantee.
Need for Insanity Plea
While the insanity plea rarely happens in the criminal trials, it is still a controversial subject. The public as well as the legislators questions why a defendant would be found not guilty in a murder case on the grounds of insanity (, 2015). For instance, when president Ronald Reagan was shot by Hinckley so as to make an impression on actress Foster, there was a civic uproar. There were concerns about the need of the plea. However, from both the medical and legal perspectives, there have been varying opinions about the insanity plea. Some wish to have it retained while the others object. In my view, I think it is important to have it given that the plea results from the bargaining pleas whereby even the prosecutors do agree that the pleas are appropriate sometimes. It also makes sense to respect the rights of the mentally ill individuals.
The idea of having the insanity plea is to give the society a sense of protection although it does not give the defense an ideal solution. There have been a number of ways through which the society and the legal systems in the past dealt with insane individuals who committed crimes. While there are several techniques for the determination of the legal insanity, they only serve as guidelines, and thus it is difficult to reveal what the alleged criminals think about. All in all, what matters most is that the commission of a crime is wrong whether the perpetrator was healthy and normal or mentally ill and unstable. I suggest that the insanity plea remains in action since the felons that are mentally ill deserve some special treatment. While it causes a lot of controversy and challenges, a fair trial is passed to the mentally ill felons.

References,. (2015). Pleading Insanity Defense: Mentally Ill Criminal Defense | Criminal Law. Retrieved 1 December 2015, from,. (2015). Insanity Defense Facts, information, pictures | articles about Insanity Defense. Retrieved 2 December 2015, from
Findlaw,. (2015). Insanity Defense - FindLaw. Retrieved 1 December 2015, from
Lilienfeld, S., & Arkowitz, H. (2011). The Insanity Verdict on Trial. Scientific American Mind, 21(6), 64-65.

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