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pleiades's avatar

Why should we Americans care whether or not a murderer is considered insane in the eyes of the court?

Asked by pleiades (5880 points ) February 15th, 2014

Do those considered mentally insane receive something different than those who are considered mentally stable but both are murderers?

I don’t understand the difference… Does the mentally insane get off the hook with the death sentence? And why would those defense lawyers want to work with someone who is a mass murderer?

I’m not in favor of the death penalty because it teaches that killing another is a way to solve a problem. But someone who is mentally insane and a murderer deserves something close to the penalty.

Do they do intensive research at the insane asylum or what?

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21 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

insanity = reduced culpability
really simple

hearkat's avatar

If someone has mental illness, they are deemed to have less comprehension of the seriousness of their actions as someone who is “of sound mind” and can fully understand that their actions would kill and that death is permanent. Similar is the consideration of when to charge underage killers as adults or juveniles – how fully does the defendant understand the implications of their actions? From what I understand, those who are determined to be not guilty by reason of insanity are still locked away for life, since they pose a danger to society.

As for defense lawyers – I’m unsure why you specified “mass” murderers, when your Questions is about any murderer – but they are typically paid by the government to represent those who can not afford representation. There are those who are hired by the defendant or their families, and only they can answer why they go into defense or take a particular case – but I’d bet if depends greatly on the specific circumstances.

pleiades's avatar

@ragingloli 100% of “insane” murderers were fully capable of understanding the logic how to get a gun and apply it to their motive. The insanity plea is complete garbage.

And I know that insanity = “reduced culpability” but I could argue the methods used to test the individual vs an “ok” minded murderer still results in subjective conclusions.

Which leads me to my ultimate question. Is the insanity plea just a last attempt at escaping the death penalty?

pleiades's avatar

@hearkat I had the Batman Movie Killer in mind hence the “mass” murderer I should’ve cited it as an example! Sorry

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Are psychopaths insane? I think they can be classified insane. The “insanity” excuse is a slippery slope.I don’t think we as a society have the right to impose death regardless of the circumstances. Lock the door and throw away the key….yes.

Judi's avatar

Once upon a time we had state owned mental hospitals with wings for those deemed criminally insane. Society was still protected from these dangerous folks and they were treated with the few psychotropic meds that were available at the time.
Now most of the inmates are on some sort of psychotropic meds and there is very little effort to make a distinction since most of the state psychiatric hospitals have shut down.

LuckyGuy's avatar

It makes no difference to me. If you killed a family member or friend of mine, I don’t care if you are insane, had a rotten childhood, or were tutored in showering techniques by Jerry Sandusky, you pay the full price. Sorry.

ragingloli's avatar

@LuckyGuy
You are not sorry. I can smell the bloodlust.

CWOTUS's avatar

A “murderer” is not so named until after a trial and conviction. If a person is judged to be incompetent to assist in his or her own defense, then he or she cannot be tried under our legal system.

So if a person is judged to be insane before the trial – and it is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defense team needs to “prove insanity” (unlike “guilt”, which the prosecution has to prove) – then there generally won’t even be a trial.

In some cases and some jurisdictions there can be a trial and a verdict of “guilty but insane”, which means that the person has less culpability for his or her actions. Generally in these cases the defendant has been judged competent to stand trial, but can still be judged to have been insane at the time the crime was committed, and for that reason not in control of the situation that landed him in court.

As for the second part of your question, defense attorneys don’t have to like their clients. They take on unsavory people all the time, including people that they know to be guilty, to ensure that they receive a fair trial. Naturally, they are compensated for the work, too.

gondwanalon's avatar

Insane or sane it doesn’t matter. If a person kills someone on purpose then that person is a danger to other people and should not be allowed the freedom to kill again.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@gondwanalonInsane or sane it doesn’t matter. If a person kills someone on purpose then that person is a danger to other people and should not be allowed the freedom to kill again.

Which is why those found not guilty by reason of insanity are still committed to state custody and often never see the outside world again.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@ragingloli Bloodlust? I just trying to help them get their ultimate reward.

ragingloli's avatar

As I was saying, bloodlust.

keobooks's avatar

It’s harder than it used to be I think. Before psychotropic drugs actually started working, insanity was kind of permanent and incurable. If someone was deemed not guilty by reason of insanity, they were likely going to spend the rest of their life in a State mental institution. And trust me—there were many people who would rather be in prison than a mental institution. As late as the 1960’s those places were bad, bad places to be. It was legal for the medical staff to do all kinds of crazy stuff to you, like stick an ice pick up your nose and bash out part of your frontal cortex. (aka frontal lobotomy)

Things are getting blurry now because we really have drugs out there that can make people sane. You could honestly find someone who’s batshit crazy and killing people because they think they are demons from another dimension, give them a pill and watch them slip back into sanity in a manner of weeks or even days. Heck, I’ve heard with some injectable drugs like Haldol, they can go back to reasonably sane within hours. We didn’t have to think about the possibility of someone insane becoming a sound and reasonable person again because it just didn’t happen. These cures for psychosis are relatively new in the eyes of the law.

Also lawyers are now slicker than they used to be. Honestly, you could claim that ANYONE who commits a murder is insane. I mean, what kind of sane person would murder someone else? So every murderer out there has a loophole now they can jump through if they have a tricky enough lawyer. That’s why in confessions, they make a big deal of asking the person if they knew what they did was wrong but they did it anyway. It leaves a lot less wiggle room for lawyers to make an insanity plea.

I wish I had a good answer, but right now we’re just in a tough time with the law and psychosis (or insanity.., whatever you want to call it). I think things might change in the future, once its more recognized by the law that insanity is now almost totally curable.

gorillapaws's avatar

Insanity is a legal term, not a medical diagnosis. It’s being in a state of mind where they can’t understand their actions. People who “get off” on an insanity defense are usually locked away in mental hospitals for very long periods of time. I don’t think many MDs are willing to stick their necks out and declare them not a danger to society and allow them to be released. I visited one as an undergrad student as part of a class I took. It’s a sad place, and not somewhere I would want to spend the rest of my life. Still it’s more humane to keep these people in hospitals for the mentally ill than to lock them in prisons. Prisons are filled with mentally ill people who really would be better off getting humane treatment in a hospital.

@ARE_you_kidding_me I think psychopaths do know right from wrong generally speaking. They are incapable of empathy (being able to put themselves in the other person’s shoes) but they still rationally understand that murder is wrong. Someone with delusions and hallucinations however might perceive reality very differently from what’s actually happening. This could cause them to fear for their lives and react violently in self-defense to some imaginary threat. Clearly they can’t be “blamed” for their actions, but should be removed from the public to prevent future harm to themselves or others.

gondwanalon's avatar

@Darth_Algar Yes I believe that you understand what I said.

stanleybmanly's avatar

If insanity exists, then it should be taken into consideration when holding a person accountable for their actions. If a person lacks the judgement to be permitted to walk around among us, and yet is on the streets untreated and murdering his fellow citizens, the failing is in the society that allows it. Now it may be argued that anyone so deranged as to go around killing people should be disposed of whether voices in his head told him to do it or not. It certainly is an efficient method for dealing with the problem. The trouble is that just as with other diseases, mental illness has the potential to afflict any and all of us, and if my turn comes, I hope to have the good luck to receive treatment in a society shamefully notorious for ignoring its sick people until disaster arrives.

wildpotato's avatar

I agree with @gondwanalon – all veterans with confirmed kills should be locked up.~

ragingloli's avatar

@wildpotato
Remove the ~ and I would agree.

cheebdragon's avatar

Because a huge population of people in prison are serving time for petty crimes or drug offenses and are not insane. It would be cruel and fucked up to lock them up with homicidal maniacs.

Paradox25's avatar

Mitigating circumstances, while not necessarily meaning that one is insane, is still a major factor to me. I’m more likely to feel more sorry for the bullied and tormented kid who just loses it and shoots down a few of his tormentors, or an abused wife who finally shoots her husband during his sleep over a group of kids beating a homeless guy to death, or a Ted Bundy.

As far as insanity goes I’m not sure how a person with reduced mental capacity can be held to the same level of responsibility for their crimes over a person without mental handicaps. The problem is deciding whether or not someone is truly insane to begin with.

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