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GloPro's avatar

What do you think of the insanity plea?

Asked by GloPro (8311points) May 20th, 2014 from iPhone

Can someone genuinely not know right from wrong, yet use a computer to research bombs to the point of making one without coming across many, many articles and pages showcasing the horror and destruction bombs cause? Is it feasible that someone can amass guns and ammunition over an extended period of time, only to go into a dark movie theatre and start massacring people because they can’t control their impulses?

Do crazy people know they are crazy and just can’t help themselves?

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27 Answers

jerv's avatar

One man’s horror is another’s delight. Once you understand that, you’ll understand the true nature of aberrant psychology.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

No. Crazy people believe they are just as sane as you or me. Their brains aren’t right. And because of that they don’t know right from wrong. Their intentions are no longer criminal per se, but rather they are insane. And because some doctors and lawyers got together years ago and decided this means the criminal who is proven insane can’t have the wherewithal to understand the wrongness of his crime, then the punishment is lessened to imprisonment in a nuthouse.

Insanity does not preclude intelligence. Look at Charlie Manson. Well, maybe he wasn’t so intelligent. But he was smart enough to get those idiot followers of his to creepy crawly through the night and murder innocent people. And his followers were insane enough to do so. (none of them sought the insanity plea).

That nutjob who shot up the theater at the Batman movie will be adjudged insane and be locked away for the rest of his life in an institution for the criminally insane (or until his psychiatrist thinks he is no longer a whacko).

livelaughlove21's avatar

Yes, it is possible. No, people generally don’t know they’re “insane.” Also, insanity is purely a legal term. No one is medically diagnosed as being insane.

Insanity pleas are rare, and it’s even rarer that the jury finds a person insane. People seem to be under the impression that people found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity are getting an “easy out.” Not the case. They’re admitted to a mental health facility and most of them never leave. There’s no end-date for them there like there would be in prison.

ragingloli's avatar

You would have to be insane to plead insanity.

whitenoise's avatar

What I always wonder is…

Can one actually use a computer to research bombs, coming across many, many articles and pages showcasing their horror and destruction, then make one and not be insane?

Is it feasible that someone can amass guns and ammunition over an extended period of time, go into a dark movie theatre, start massacring people and not be insane?

in short: what makes me frown upon the insanity plea is that the crime itself is often an indication of insanity to begin with.

If I killed 200 people in a movie theatre and I were not insane, than what would that say about the sanity of the world we live in?

elbanditoroso's avatar

Everyone is a little insane. We all have our own crazinesses. The whole concept of pleading insanity is just a method to try and show that you’re a little less in control of your reality than the guy who is judging you.

I’m against the plea. It’s a cop-out – it’s a way of cheating justice by making some excuse up.

Yes, I am sure that there will be some bleeding hearts who will criticize my answer – “why should a plainly sick person be put in jail – he needs treatment, not jail time” – but I dismiss those,

Why? Because the person (victim) who is dead or injured as a result of the (supposedly) insane person, is still dead. The perpetrator being deemed insane doesn’t bring the victim back to life.

I think the insanity plea is nuts.

jerv's avatar

@elbanditoroso Many jurisdictions consider an insanity plea “Guilty with extenuating/mitigating circumstances”, and it merely makes the difference between prison and a secure psychiatric facility. And at least prison has a set release date.

hominid's avatar

Is the goal of criminal justice to remove the individual from the general population for the safety of society? If so, how is an insanity plea a cop-out if it only means that the person will end up in the correct place?

The concept of “cop-out” only makes sense in light of a criminal justice system with a goal of punishment.

jerv's avatar

@hominid Like the US system, where it’s better to execute an innocent person than let a crime go unsolved?

Bill1939's avatar

@whitenoise what rational reason would you have that would justify killing 200 people? I can imagine such an action arising from the belief that it served a greater good, such as in war, however the Batman shooter did not have a philosophical motive. He was not attacking an enemy. He killed without a justifiable reason.

@elbanditoroso it is the duty of an attorney to demonstrate the innocence of their client, to find any legal reason preventing the prosecution from proving guilt, or at least to mitigate a judgement against the client.

whitenoise's avatar

I cannot see any sane rationale for killing 200 people in a movie theatre. Period.

It would be a kind of sane that I wouldn’t want to be.

(I am talking about a normal movie night, not the night the theatre was filled with terminally Ill people sharing a wish for euthanasia.)

syz's avatar

I don’t know that much about it, but if in fact the plea is “Not guilty by reason of insanity”, then I have a big issue with it. Either you did the act or not, therefore you are either guilty or not. I feel it should be “Guilty, insanity as a mitigating circumstance”.

If you’re mother with post-partum and drown your kids, your kids are still dead. You still killed them. I consider that “guilty”. You just also have a mental health issue that requires treatment.

flutherother's avatar

“A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason”. GK Chesterton.

whitenoise's avatar

Guilt isn’t about whether one has done something, but about whether one is responsible for an offense.

filmfann's avatar

I think researching such a thing would take time and patience, and would be examples of why someone isn’t crazy.

Crazydawg's avatar

Insane people are oblivious to their deep descent into depravity. Only sane people are aware of the carnage taking place in the world around them and at the same time have filters in place to control their impulses not to do bad things to others.

Joseph Heller brilliantly addressed the notion of being crazy or insane in his book Catch 22 that illustrates how it is not possible for the insane to be aware they are indeed insane.

“You mean there’s a catch?”

“Sure there’s a catch”, Doc Daneeka replied. “Catch-22. Anyone who wants to get out of combat duty isn’t really crazy.”

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane, he had to fly them. If he flew them, he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to, he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”

ibstubro's avatar

I’ve never really gotten my mind firmly around it.
I mean, don’t you have to be a little insane to abuse a child? Kill someone when it’s not self defense?
Isn’t there a degree of insanity in breaking any law you know the need for?

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

Well, I think the insanity plea is redundant, because obviously someone who commits cold-blooded murder can’t be all there. If they planned it ahead of time, even worse. So, do we not punish any psycho serial killer because they are crazy? No.

I think there should be no insanity plea. I think the only members of society who might qualify for a pass would be people who are mentally retarded, and they need to be institutionalized if they have committed a violent crime.

livelaughlove21's avatar

Just because you think there’s something “wrong” with someone that hurts or kills someone does not mean that the person is legally “insane.” Being insane means you didn’t know what you were doing was wrong. If you know it’s wrong and do it anyway, like most of these criminals do, then you’re not insane, by definition, and deserve prison time. A person who does qualify for the insanity plea needs to be institutionalized, and they will be, but prison is probably not a suitable place for them. You’re sticking them in a cell and they have no clue why – that’s not going to help anyone. They need actual treatment; treatment one cannot find in prison.

In order to be guilty of a crime like murder, you need actus reus (the guilty act) and mens rea (the guilty mind) – the “insane” do not have the latter, so they should not be found guilty of the crime. We can’t find people guilty of crimes if we can not show they meet all elements of the crime. That’s like charging someone with burglary for swiping a stapler off of someone’s desk at work. The elements for burglary have not been met, so the person should not be convicted of that particular crime.

Being mentally ill or just messed up in the head is not the same as being insane, which is why there’s a distinction.

@Skaggfacemutt How is the insanity plea a “pass”? Are you under the impression that the court just lets them go free if they’re found insane?

LuckyGuy's avatar

My probelm with the insanity plea is Where does it end? Where is the line between planning and killing one person you know, or 200 you don’t?
If you allow insanity pleas, you did not have control of your faculties and did not know you were wrong, then why don’t we let drunk drivers off? “Of course I ran that old lady down. Dude I was so wasted I couldn’t see her! Besides I was in the road not on a sidewalk. Wasn’t she in the wrong place? ” That sounds like someone not in control to me.

Ignorantia legis neminem excusat – Ignorance of the law is no excuse.

I am a firm believer in responsibility and intent.
If over a period of time you planned a project, purchase and amassed the equipment, traveled to the location and learned the layout, and then hurt people, you knew what you were doing.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I don’t believe that anyone actually doesn’t know right from wrong, unless they are pretty severely mentally deficient. Since the voluntary use of drugs and alcohol are not an excuse under the law, and neither is ignorance of the law, that doesn’t leave any valid excuse for very many people.

livelaughlove21's avatar

…it amazes me how ignorant people are of psychology and mental health, let alone the law. If people knew anything about severe mental illness, or experienced it within their families, I bet they’d feel differently about it.

The drunk driver argument – If someone gets drunk voluntarily, how is that the same thing as someone that has a mental illness? They didn’t choose to be that way.

The ignorance of the law argument – And what if the person doesn’t have the capacity to “know”? Ignorance implies that you have the ability to know whatever you’re ignorant of. These people do not have that ability, whether people “believe” that or not.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Thank heavens we require qualified psychiatrists/psychologists to make the determination as to sane or insane.
It seems to me if we let the jellies on Fluther make this determination there would be far more people in prison or executed for crimes they committed when they were legally insane.

GloPro's avatar

So far, I like @Crazydawg‘s Catch-22 answer. If the insane are not aware that they are insane, then how can they plead insanity? Is it determined during questioning by the police after the arrest? If they are not competent to understand right from wrong, how do the Miranda Rights protect them? Who decides to enter an insanity plea, and are the defendants in the custody of the state or under power of attorney when that decision is made? Are they barred from taking the stand or making decisions for themselves once insanity is on the table, under the assumption that they cannot make competent choices for themselves? That seems like a stripping of rights… Do you give up your rights before you are found to be insane? If you know any answers, these are not rhetorical questions.

I agree that “Not guilty by reason of insanity” is a bogus defense and verdict. Guilty means you did it. Regardless of mental faculty, if you pull a trigger, set a fire, make a bomb, or by any other means bring violence upon another person than you are guilty. It is in the sentencing that insanity would come into play. Sure, get someone help and find the right place in the system for them. But calling them not guilty is an insult to the victims and their families.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

@GloPro If the insane are not aware that they are insane, then how can they plead insanity?
That’s why we have defense lawyers. (Notice how close to liar the word lawyer sounds).

Is it determined during questioning by the police after the arrest?
No. The police may believe a suspect is insane, but they would never say anything to blow their case.

how do the Miranda Rights protect them?
Just because you are insane does not mean the police don’t have to read you your Miranda rights. A good lawyer would argue that the police are not certified nor qualified to make such a determination and therefore not reading the suspect his/her Miranda rights regardless of a later determination of insanity could very well get the case tossed on a technicality.

Who decides to enter an insanity plea
This is a defense strategy up to the lawyer and the accused.
This decision is made when it is made regardless of whether the accused is in custody or out on bail.
No rights are stripped, if anything, insane people seem to acquire extra rights not given to accused suspects who are not deemed insane.

Not guilty by reason of insanity is actually an excellent defense and verdict. There is something known as temporary insanity where it is determined (by qualified psychiatrists) that the accused was insane only during the commission of the crime. If you have never felt a rage so severe as to make you want to kill someone, then you don’t know what I mean. But this is a real condition and also a very good defense in a court of law.

Temporary Insanity. Nolo’s Free Dictionary of Law Terms and Legal Definitions. In a criminal case, a defense by the accused that he or she was briefly insane at the time the crime was committed and therefore was incapable of knowing the nature of the alleged criminal act.

And get this, “Exemption of the insane from full criminal punishment dates back to at least the Code of Hammurabi.

GloPro's avatar

@Dan_Lyons You misunderstood the depth of several of my questions.

Assuming the Miranda Rights are read, can an insane person’s words be used against them in a court of law? It would seem that an officer would not blow his case by continuing to question someone in this scenario. Anything they say might be thrown out if not said in the presence of a lawyer if at a later point the defendant is found not in control of his faculties.

Leading into… How can someone deemed unofficially not in control of his faculties (which is not determined until verdict, or at least much later in the legal process than entering a plea) make legal decisions. It is assumed that they may not be able to determine right from wrong, and therefore unable to determine what the best course of action would be. If the defendant cannot determine those things, then they become either the custody of the state or a power of attorney should be declared. If they are given the right to make decisions, then with the same Catch-22 theory, that in itself is an argument against insanity.

Who protects the rights of the insane and makes legal decisions for them, specifically. If designated a criminal lawyer of the state, is that person completely competent to make decisions on the behalf of a potentially insane stranger?

I understand temporary insanity, I understand Not Guilty by reason of insanity. I just happen to disagree with the Not Guilty part of the verdict. Your mind, sane or not, compelled your body to carry out heinous acts, independent of any other physical being. Accountability should not be decided because you are out of your mind. The sentence may be different, but if evidence prevails that you committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt, then guilty is the appropriate verdict.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

@GloPro can an insane person’s words be used against them in a court of law?


“The defendant can waive his or her right to have his or her attorney present as long as
the waiver is “knowing and intelligent.” The reason this is important with respect to those with mental illness is that a confession given during a police interrogation is valid, even if the person questioned has a mental illness that prevented the confession from being of that person’s free will. Therefore, it is critical to get an attorney for a criminal suspect or defendant with mental illness as soon as possible. Without an attorney present, the police may extract a confession from the defendant without the defendant realizing what is happening. Even though evidence of the mental illness might be introduced at a later trial to discredit such a confession, it still may not fully remove the impact of that confession.”

But an even better question is this, “If someone was later judged to be insane for the purposes of a trial, could his/her silence after being read their Miranda rights be sufficient to determine that person is not insane (because they had the capacity to keep their mouth shut and ask for a lawyer)?
Not being able to determine right from wrong and allowing your attorney to make legal decisions are completely unrelated.
Giving your attorney the OK to make legal decisions on your behalf apparently is not considered a sign of either sanity nor insanity.

I just happen to disagree with the Not Guilty part of the verdict.

As is your right. Fortunately there are others in Federal Appeals Courts and on the US Supreme
Court who disagree with you.

Accountability should not be decided because you are out of your mind.
And yet that is precisely what the rules are in place to protect us from. That is to say criminal intent is a necessary component for a conviction of a crime. People adjudged to be insane do not have the mental faculties to hold them legally accountable for crimes they commit because they don’t know what they are doing is wrong.

Don’t worry, there are many people who believe as do you.

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