Temporary Insanity? Who cares--they still did it.

How is it possible in our “free will” based justice system to allow leniency to violent criminals just because their actions were psychologically determined?

What would happen if it were proven that all behavior is determined by psychological factors caused by our genetics, our environment, and our experiences?

It is my view that all people would be the responsible causing agent of their actions, even if their circumstances would not allow them to choose differently.

  1. The “temporary insanity” defense is rarely used and quite difficult to prove.

  2. I, for one, don’t want to be in a society where people who do not know what they are doing by no choice of their own - whether it’s because they have the IQ of a turnip all the time or because of sleepwalking - are treated the same as people who willfully commit crimes knowing full well what they are doing.

  3. People found not guilty for these reasons are not just sent free. They are punished in a way which is more condusive to rehabilitation for their particular cases.

Yer pal,
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What Satan said.

It’s possible because the legal system doesn’t understand psychology. For example, a defense lawyer can claim that his client was “temporarily insane” at the time the crime was committed, and bring in a horde of psychologists to attest to that. Problem is, there is no such thing as “insanity” in psychology. It’s nothing more than a convenient, catch-all, pop-psychological term.

As opposed to what other influences?

You think people should be responsible for actions they had no say in? Or are you just frustrated by the use of the insanity defense? I can’t blame you if you are, because I am, too, for the reason stated above. But to generalize that people should be held responsible for things beyond their control… sorry, I can’t agree with you there.

As opposed to these influences not determining all behavior in such a way that at time T person X could do either act A1 or A2 given all of the same causal antecedents.

What do you mean by “say?” I certainly think that crimes should be judged according to their circumstances. If someone jumps in front of my car and I kill them or if I stab someone while unconscious, those circumstances differ from someone who claims that they were in a “disturbed state of mind” which led to them murdering (or whatever crime). Does the “insane” person have a say in their moral actions? Of course, but it is a determined say and when it comes down to it, all of our decisions have a fair amount of psychological determinism in which we could not have chosen differently.

Aliens and government telepaths.

Can you give an example of such an influence? Those three-- genetics (innate behaviors), environment, and experience-- are at the root of pretty much all human behavior, including abnormal behavior.

SPOOFE-- You, too? :smiley:

Yes, those circumstances do differ. Unless you had the bizarre plan of using the insanity defense in those cases, what’s your point?

And btw, how on earth do you stab someone if you’re unconscious?

Let’s elaborate on this one:

Does someone who’s only claiming he was “insane” because it beats pleading plain ol’ guilty have a say in their moral actions? Yes, of course. He’s just claiming “insanity” to worm his way out of the rightly-deserved punishment for his actions.

Does a person genuinely suffering from schizophrenia or a personality disorder or some other mental illness have a say in their moral actions? Of course not.

First of all when you are talking insanity plea you’re pretty much talking “TV” justice. It just isn’t used often or with any particular success in the real world. Because in order to be considered “legally” insane one must prove that you did not plan or execute the crime during a time when you were aware of the consequences of your actions.

If an insantiy plea worked then even famous criminals like old Jeffy Dalhmer would be able to plead. But you see, Jeffy while most of us would admit was pretty nuts, showed a great deal of rational thought in how he planned, executed, and certainly covered up his crimes. In other words, the little green men were not screaming in his head so loud during his 20 some odd years of murder that he’d be dumb enough to go out and eat some guy in front of a cop.

But there are I suppose a few cases now and then of clear cut instances when a person should be judged differently because of his mental capacity. People who are clearly suffering from a mental illness that renders them incapable of rational thought, and people who’s IQ is seriously challenged should be allowed to show these defects and be judged accordingly. We should not be throwing retarded people and sick people in prison with hardened criminals, but we do much more often than not. Just as I feel we should not be executing children or throwing them in jail with adults.

The truth is the “insanity defense” just doesn’t fly most of the time, even when it could apply.


Crazy boob, the other posters have hit this one pretty well - there is just one point I would like to add.

In most states, a necessary component of insanity defenses, whether temporary or permanent, is that the defendant was unable to distinguish right from wrong. People with a psychological compulsion to commit acts they know are wrong can’t use the insanity defense, so Berkowitz, who killed people because Satan (through the dog) told him to do it, knew he was committing bad acts and thus was not legally insane. (BTW, Hinckley got away with it - he shouldn’t have been found insane for shooting Reagan)
OTOH, if you stab a person 50 times, fully believing that the person was a particularly succulent side of beef, then you did not know what you were doing was wrong. In this extremely rare circumstance, a finding of insanity is appropriate.


To follow up SuaSponte’s intelligent and informed post:

1.) Where do you get the idea that lots of defendants use an insanity defense, that many succeed, or that many succeed in the temporary insanity defense and are not even committed to a mental institution? AFAIK, even attempts to use insanity as a defense are rare.

2.) AudreyK said

Ah, this may be true, but “insanity” has a very particular and narrow definition in criminal law: you do not know what you are doing is wrong (sleepwalking, low IQ, hallucination, etc.), or, in some states, you have an “irresistable impulse” to take the criminal action as the result of a mental illness (i.e., just really wanting to is not enough).

3.) I think the problem is (as revealed in the OP and later posts) that most people look at a serial killer and think, “This guy is CRAZY!” and they assume that that could avail him of the insanity defense. Not so. Frankly, the law doesn’t care if you are “crazy” or “mentally ill” or “homicidally deranged.” It cares whether you fit the definition given above. If not, you are not legally insane, no matter how crazy you really are.

I think in some cases where the defendent is insane it still shouldn’t make a difference. Let’s say a paranoid schizophrenic believes his neighbor is spying on him and plotting to kill him. He kills his neighbor. A reputable psychiatrist testifies that the defendent honestly believed that his neighbor was plotting to kill him because of his mental illness.

In my opinion, he should still go to jail. Even if someone IS plotting to kill you, the correct course of action is not to kill the plotter, it is to report them to the authorities. Now, in a case where the neighbor came over to the paranoid’s house and was killed because the paranoid thought that the neighbor was about to stab him, he might have a case for self-defense.

Do you have a specific cite for a case such as this, Badtz?

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Nope, it’s purely hypothetical.

Well, Badtz, in such a case, a jury would hear the evidence from a defendent maintaining NGBROI and evidence from the prosecution and make the decision. I don’t think either guilty or not guilty by reasons of insanity are givens in your hypothetical, and indeed, evidence in an individual case would change your view possibly if you were on an jury.

For example, while I agree with what you say, say the person was so delusional that he thought he did contact the police, but in actuality he was muttering something incoherantly to some Girl Scouts who wanted to sell him cookies (hey - they’re in uniform too!) or maybe he was so delusional that he thought he was being attacked by this person and not merely plotting, which to him made it self-defense.

That’s why I wanted to ask…

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Of course let’s not forget the famous Twinkie defense.

What I fail to understand is the defense that the defendant had a terror-filled childhood or some tramatic experience and therefore were unable to control themselves while commiting a crime. Is this is a type of insanity defense? My point is that if they were unable to control themselves for ANY reason, then should they be locked up forever?!? I mean, they couldn’t control themselves. So what is to stop them from doing it again? If someone was in control, they could be punished and rehabilitated. However, if they were not in control, lock up and throw key away.

Well Blinking…the statistics show that most violent criminals were subjected in one way or another to a violent, abusive, or neglectful childhood, and they go to jail anyway. The justice system is not really taking this defense into account all that often. It worked in some way for the Menendez brothers because the case was high profile and they had enough money to pull it off. But the unfortunate guy that grows up in a crack house then goes on to commit crimes of his own doesn’t get much sympathy in our judicial system.

I guess I may have stated before that violent crime, poverty and child abuse are so closely linked that if we ever hope to alieviate the first problem our society will have to some day seriously address the second two.


Thought I’d let you know that my final paper in my Law & Science class will be on the insanity defense; if this thread is still alive in December, I’ll come back and share.

** oldscratch and Needs ** :

IIRC, the guy in the “twinkie” defense was found guilty.

So were the Menendez bros.

So, keep in mind that although a defense may have been raised, does not mean that the person was found not guilty.

and ** Badtz ** if you were looking for a real life example, there was a case in Lansing MI of a uniformed animal control officer who was killed by a person who was suffering delusions at the time. He was taken in custody, went to the forensics center where they found him to be unfit to stand trial, then placed in a secure mental facility pending his “return” to sanity to stand trial.
another less aggregious example that I witnessed in a courtroom: The judge had numerous cases in front of him for sentencing. One defendant did not have council present, the judge ordered an attorney present to represent them, they were seated in the jury box, talking. The defendant got agitated, and loud, the judge looked over in annoyance and said “excuse me” to the guy, the guy responded by saying loudly “There’s NO EXCUSE for you judge!”. Pause while everyone in the courtroom thought YIKES.

The judge then had the guy who was in front of him then sit down momentarily, took up the case of the other guy. Only now, the charge was “contempt of court”. Judge found him guilty, during this, however, some one in the courtroom identified themselves as the guys’ therapist and stated he’d been off his meds. The judge, still held him responsible for the “contempt of court” violation, but also did a continuance for the original case so the guy could get evaluated and stablized.

clear as mud, now, right?