The Insanity Defense, "Innocent by Reason of Insanity", Should be Reformed or Abolished

Essay by umd_girlCollege, UndergraduateA, November 2004

download word file, 8 pages 4.0

In recent times, the insanity defense has been prevalent in many high profile legal battles, as well as being featured in numerous blockbuster movies. In addition, it is also the subject matter of countless television talk shows. For example, Ricki Lake, Geraldo Rivera and Jerry Springer have often instigated guests to act out in anger and rage, and thus provided the general public with vast misinformation about mental health. It seems all too common, that the public is inundated with exaggerated diagnoses of mental disorders, according to Jeanne Heaton, a psychologist at Ohio University (Talan 14). Criminals purposely try to plead insanity for crimes they commit to escape severe punishment. It's the 'last-ditch defense' of anyone who's undeniably guilty on fact (Morse). Because of the manipulation of the insanity defense, I believe it is in serious need of reform throughout the United States, or it should be abolished in all criminal cases.

The controversy over the insanity defense comes from the many different interpretations of insanity and the different notions of how to deal with those people who are truly insane. The insanity and incompetence defenses are considered by many to be defenses by excuse, where a defendant may argue that he/she should not be held criminally liable for breaking the law, as they were mentally ill or incompetent at the time of the criminal act. This defense is based on the principle that punishment is reasonable only if the defendant is capable of both controlling his/her behavior and understanding that he/she has committed a wrongful act. A defendant making this argument might plead "not guilty by reason of insanity," as defined in the Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics ("Insanity").

The concept of insanity is different from the concept of incompetence. Incompetence is the inability of a defendant to understand the...