Prison Folk and Doctors...The Andrea Yates "not guilty" vote.

I just heard the verdict on Andrea Yates…as I suspected, and as is fair (in my opinion), she was found not guilty by reason of insanity and is going to a state mental hospital that was described as “much like prison.” The commentator also said that she will likely spend the rest of her life there.

My question is, does the system sneak “punishment” in on insanity cases? The way I see it, she wasn’t this crazy all her life. If she were to exhibit signs of near-complete recovery in say, the next 5 years, wouldn’t they have to free her? Or will they sort of look the other way with regard to her progress because of the unspeakable nature of her crime? Just curious. Thanks!

Ultimately, it comes down to judges. Andrea’s committment will be reviewed periodically by a state district judge, I believe yearly. There’s very little chance that a judge would agree to her release any time in the forseeable future, almost certainly not while she’s capable of having more children.

From your cite (bolding mine):

I guess this is what I’m talking about. She was deemed mentally ill by doctors and the courts followed the law and put her in a mental hospital. So if the doctors say she is cured, why would the court then act on behalf of the public’s feelings as opposed to letting her go? That amounts to punishment. It doesn’t seem right to me. I do agree that she should not have any more children, but she could willingly agree to sterilization so that would never happen again. I dunno…it doesn’t seem quite fair.

I asked a related question a while back.

Some states have the verdict “Guilty, but mentally ill” available. This gets around some of the issues associated with “Not guilty by reason of insanity”. The link above explains the distinction.

I worked as a case manager for the Texas Department of Mental Health/Mental Retardation for 7 years. I can assure you that this will not get to a judge to decide for decades, if ever. The doctors assigned to her case will not certify her as fit for release until she is too old and feeble to pose even a potential threat. They have their own reputations to think of, and if they certify her as fit for release and she so much as gets a speeding ticket, there will be a public outcry that the doctors will not want to deal with. Much safer just to keep her locked away forever.

If she was somehow found later to be “cured” or fit for release, then the only sensible thing would be back to prison.

I thought that was the difference between “guilty but insane” and “not guilty by reason of insanity.”

By the way, I couldn’t open that link to the other thread. My computer is constipated.

I put a longwinded post here in the thread that Enola Straight started which has a lot of bearing on the questions that you’re asking.

While I agree that it’s unlikely that her doctors will ever agree that she needs to be released, they can’t just hold her indefinitely on a court-ordered commitment without judicial oversight. Yates now is now subject to civil commitment by either a judge or a jury under a clear and convincing standard. Under the Health & Safety Code, an Order for Extended Mental Health Services is only good for a period of 12 months. After that she has to be recommitted every 12 months.

It may be sensible, but it wouldn’t be legal. She was acquitted.

I’m not arguing the legal side, I’m talking about the practical side. I’ve attended more than one of these hearings. The judge basically just asks the staff what they want to do, and he OKs it. Now, this being such a high profile case, I’m sure there will be much greater crossing of T’s and dotting of I’s, but the end result will be the same. She’s never going to be a “free” woman again.

My experiences with the doctors, psychologists, judges, etc., were that everyone is far more interested in covering their respective behinds than anything else. The “safe” route for everyone involved is to lock her up and throw away the key.

Also, keep in mind that we are talking about Texas. Many people here would like nothing more than to give her the death penalty. Any judge that sets her free wouldn’t stand a chance of re-election.

This would also close the potential loophole of someone using mental illness as a cover for committing serious crime to avoid a huge prison term, only to be freed when they were suddenly and miraculously ‘cured’.

That Guinness director, right?

This happens quite a bit: I did it, but I was insane. Now I’m not insane, so let me out. It’s almost never believed.

One of the most famous cases with this defense was Billy Milligan. In the midst of all the Sybil bruhah, Billy used a multiple personality defense to avoid conviction as a serial rapist. He also had a history of what today would be called “Gay Hate Crimes.” He was actually acquitted using the insanity defense!

That case makes my eyeballs boil.

The whole point behind the insanity defense is this, we do NOT put people in jail for being ill. For instance, if I had the measles and gave it to my wife and she died, am I guilty of murder, no because I was sick.

Courts applied the reasoning, if the person wasn’t ill, in this case mentally ill, would that person have committed the crime. In Yate’s case the jury said “No, if she had been well she wouldn’t have committed the murders.”

This worked very well till the 70s when people and pyschiatry in particular came around to the fact that all murders were by nature of comitting the act not well. This of course is wrong. John Hinkely brought a final uproar to the insanity defense.

Even though very, very few people ever got “away” with the defense, most places adopted the “guilty but mentally ill.” This makes no sense, if you were really mentally ill you would have no control over your crime. But it’s what we live with.

As for the fairness, is anything in our system of justice fair. Does anyone believe for one second OJ Simpson would’ve been found not guilty if he hadn’t been able to afford high price attorneys? (Whether or not he did it?) Why is it that if John a rich guy and Jack a poor guy each murder someone and the judge sets their bail at 1 million dollars. Because John is rich he goes free, till his trail, while Jack for NO other reason than being poor must stay in jail till his trial, and God knows what could happen in there.

Why is it that women rarely ever get the death penalty? Does anyone think if Susan Smith’s husband had killed the kids he’d NOT be sitting on death row. She isn’t. But he probably would be for the same crime.

That and “not guilty by reason of insanity” does NOT mean a person goes free.

Virtually nothing of the above is true. “The whole point behind the insanity defense is this, we do NOT put people in jail for being ill.” Wrong; the insanity defense has nothing to do with being “sick.” it has to do with being incapable of appreciating the wrongness of the act – a failure that doesn’t apply to most mental illness. “For instance, if I had the measles and gave it to my wife and she died, am I guilty of murder, no because I was sick.” Wrong again – you are guilty of murder, if you infected her deliberately and with malice.

"Courts applied the reasoning, if the person wasn’t ill, in this case mentally ill, would that person have committed the crime. In Yate’s case the jury said ‘No, if she had been well she wouldn’t have committed the murders.’ " This is nothing like any court’s reasoning. Insanity is not a “but/for” test, it’s a failure of mens rea.

"… most places adopted the “guilty but mentally ill.” No, they didn’t; it’s only the law in 12 states.

If she is cured at some point in the future, why should she undergo sterilization or be prohibited from having children? After all, doesn’t cured mean she no longer suffers from whatever it was that caused her to commit those heinous acts?

Also, why should she be forced into prison after she’s released from the medical care if she is, in fact, cured?

No doctor is going to pronounce her “cured”; the most that any will say is that she is no longer a danger to herself or others, that she is capable of functioning in society, etc. For most, that’s all that can be said; the future is uncertain. Yates, OTOH, has a known risk for relapse that can be eliminated, and I can easily imagine her release being conditional on her doing so.

Those acquitted by reason of insanity often spend as much (or more) time incarcerated as they would have if found guilty; if released, they are often subject to conditions such as ongoing judicial review or outpatient treatment. I agree that under such conditions, there is no reason to send them to prison – that should be reserved for those who are guilty, but mentally ill at the ime of trial.

That’s what I’m getting at. Are we going to punish people for stuff that we’ve determined that they’re not responsible for?

Thanks for that info. I really wasn’t aware of the continuing treatment requirements.

“Guilty but mentally ill” sounds to me like a load of bunk, something legislators came up with to appease their constituents. If someone’s mental illness does not have an impact on their culpability, then it shouldn’t be mentioned. In other words, “Guilty” and “Not Guilty” should be the only two choices for the jury.