The Insanity Defense Essay

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The Insanity Defense

Former U.S president Ronald Reagan was shot by a man named John Hinckley in the year 1981. The president along with many of his entourage survived the shooting despite the heavy infliction of internal and external injuries. The Hinckley case is a classic example of the 'not guilty by reason of insanity' case (NGRI). The criminal justice system under which all men and women are tried holds a concept called mens rea, a Latin phrase that means "state of mind". According to this concept, Hinckley committed his crime oblivious of the wrongfulness of his action. A mentally challenged person, including one with mental retardation, who cannot distinguish between right and wrong is protected and exempted by the court
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The rule states, " A defendant may be excused from criminal responsibility if at the time of the commission of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from a disease of mind, as not to know the nature and the quality of the act he was doing..." (3)

The problem with this defense is that insanity here is either examined from a legal angle or a psychoanalytical one which involves talking to people and having them take tests. There is however, no scientific proof confirming the causal relationship between mental illness and criminal behavior based on a deeper neurological working of the brain sciences. The psychiatrist finds himself/herself in a double bind where with no clear medical definition of mental illness, he/she must answer questions of legal insanity- beliefs of human rationality, and free will instead of basing it on more concrete scientific facts. Let me use a case study to elaborate my argument that law in this country continues to regard insanity as a moral and legal matter rather than ones based on scientific analysis.

The insanity defense of Andrea Yates: The country was absolutely appalled when it heard that Yates, a mother of five children, had killed each of her children resulting in a horrific family slaughter. There were extremely polarized feelings about this case- sympathy (concluding
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