Mind Games – Criminal law
Insanity is used as a defense against responsibility for a crime. The first modern test of insanity was the M’Naghten rule (1843).
It held that a person was insane if he or she had such a defect of reason at the time of committing a criminal act that he or she did not know the nature and quality of the act or was unable to distinguish between right and wrong.
Some jurisdictions have added to this the “irresistible impulse” test. More than half the states now accept this irresistible impulse promoted by the American Law Institute.
[Irresistible impulse] defines a criminal as insane “if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.”
In 1983 the American Bar Association recommended the irresistible impulse rule be dropped. The federal anti-crime act of 1984 then put the burden of proof of insanity on the defendant for federal crimes.
Laws dictate that insane persons must seek help for themselves before treatment can begin. Therefore, involuntary commitment must meet certain criteria. Persons must
- be in imminent danger of committing violence
- be kicking and screaming, out of control
- have already committed violence
- be unable to care for themselves
- be unable to communicate
- be incompetent, unable to make decisions
Under such standards, it seems, the law nourishes and supports the right to be insane.[4 ] Families then become just as much a victim of the illness as the insane themselves.
Susan J. Shelley
- 1. “Insanity, legal” by Phil Brown. Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc. CD-ROM ©1992.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid.
- 4. Madness in the Streets: How Psychiatry and the Law Abandoned the Mentally Ill, by Rael Jean Isaac and Virginia C. Armat, p. 249.