Would it not make a lot more sense for doctors to be the jury in insanity claims?

Forgot to ask: do you mean the defendant should be required to testify, and the expert then tells the jury what it just saw?

Perhaps if the judge were always to instruct the jury, something akin to “You have heard testimony to the effect that the defendant Joe Schmoe is schizophrenic. In considering all relevant testimony in this case, you are to keep in mind that a schizophrenic is a competent person of sound mind until and unless demonstrated otherwise; that having a diagnosis of schizophrenia in no way indicates a lessening of legal responsibility for one’s actions. You may also hear or have heard testimony from Joe Schmoe, and you are to regard that testimony as convincing or less than convincing on its own merits; having a diagnosis of schizophrenic does not impugn the reliability of any testimony presented by Joe Schmoe as a witness.”

But I’m not sure that in the current cultural climate it wouldn’t be the case that for many potential jurors it would still be … what’s the legal term for it, ‘prejudicial’? When you bring up some ‘ad hominem’ factor that is so widely regarded as discrediting that jurors would find it difficult to set aside even if instructed to do so?

The expert could conduct an interview with the defendant in front of the jury. The opposing counsel could have their own expert conduct a similar interview. The jury would have the opportunity to consider how they themselves would answer any such questions and whether they consider the answers to illustrate that the defendant isn’t all there in the head.

The attorneys could subsequently interview their expert witnesses for their interpretations and try to put their own spin on it, I guess. But the burden of proof should be on whatever party is alleging that the defendant lacks capacity; for failure to demonstrate that such is the case, the default assumption should be one of competency, and the jury should be instructed to that effect.

Wouldn’t this effectively require a defendant to waive their Fifth Amendment rights (I’m assuming we’re talking about the U.S. here) in order to mount an insanity defense? Not that this is necessarily a deal-breaker — for all I know, there are other types of legal defense that require the defendant to testify.

The defense attorney could choose not to have the defendant on the stand, and that would include not having questions posed by the expert shrink, but the cost of that would be that the defense could not claim that “insanity” (lack of capacity to tell good from evil) had been demonstrated. The defense attorney would be limited to what could be argued from evidence otherwise presented.

One big problem, though, even aside from any possible privileges against self incrimination: insanity goes to the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offense, not at the time of the trial. For example, if Jared Loughner is ever restored to competency through medication and therapy, any evaluation of his behavior on the stand is going to have tangiental relevance at most as to what his mental state was at the time of the offense and whether he was sane or insane at the time.

Moreover, even if his mental state at trial was relevant to his sanity, doing a full mental exam in front of the jury would be incredibly trying on their patience and attention - mental status exams involve a lot of boring stuff like asking the interviewee to count backwards from 100 by threes and then sevens, remembering three common words several minutes apart, interpreting the meaning of common sayings, and so on, some of which will wind up being relevant and some of which won’t, and all of which will take several hours. It’s far better to let the expert conduct his interview at his leisure one on one and report a summary of their findings to the judge or jury rather than do the entire thing with the defendant on the stand in a courtroom in front of a few dozen people. Moreover still, experts don’t solely rely on the interviews they conduct; in some circumstances the defendant may be too agitated and noncompliant to even speak to an expert. Experts also rely on a thorough record review, including any witness statements and statements of the defendant, police reports, medical records and records of previous psychological problems and psychiatric history, etc.

The interview could be taped, edited to show the relevant parts, and then shown in the courtroom, I suppose. (Opposing counsel would need to be provided with the full length tape, though, so they could contest “cherry picking” of footage and select other segments to show the court in rebuttal).

I’m aware of the self-incrimination consideration. If it is the defendant’s OWN attorney who wishes to assert that the defendant is non compos mentis then presumably that issue is irrelevant.

Rather than picking psychiatrists as juror, why not skip entirely the jury part?

That’s what’s done over here. Determining whether or not the accused was legally insane is done early on, and there’s no trial at all in this case (though someone can still go to trial, and be acquited by the jury for reason of insanity, it’s expected to be the exception rather than the norm)

Just a word of caution, this is a rather broad statement, and actually there are many types of psychiatric illnesses that have a biological basis or medical basis and are better understood. Otherwise your statement would rule out most jobs for Forensic psychiatry, who has to be trained not only in the medical definitions of psychiatric illness and diagnoses but also on legal definition as well, as the two do not always coincide.

It’s been touched on briefly, but it should be remembered that legal “insanity” is not mental illness, and most mental illness does not constitute legal insanity. Almost all crimes require an element of intent, and the legal definitions of insanity respond to the idea that some people are incapable of forming that intent. A doctor’s understanding of insanity does not map well onto the legal usage, and for that reason I don’t see value in the OP’s proposal.

G.K. Chesterton on the great social value of a non-expert jury: http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/20725/

As to expert witnesses in insanity cases, a New Mexico legislator just might have had the right idea: http://blog.lawinfo.com/2012/02/10/weird-law-of-the-day-psychiatrists-must-dress-as-wizards-when-testifying/

The basic premise of criminal law is that laws are supposed to be written so that “the people”, the common man on the street-type person can undersatnd it. No law degree or medical degree is required to obey the law.

Those same people will be ones who make up a Grand Jury and or Petite Jury.

Appellate court cases are heard by judges who have an understanding of the law because they are deciding the “legal merits” of the case. Should some or all the evidence have been entered or excluded? Is the law actually “Constitutional”? Did the defendant recieve a “fair and impartial” trial? Were some jurors excluded unfairly?

Not really, no, not if you’re referring to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression, the various anxiety disorders, attention deficit disorders, or obsessive disorders. Despite widespread and long-lasting claims to the contrary, there is a dearth of empirical support for claims of “chemical imbalances in the brain” of various posited sorts. See Anatomy of an Epidemic.

A jury is expected to decide if a defendent knows the difference between “right and wrong” based on the evidence presented in court. Guilty but insane, not guilty by reason of insanity, or whatever the proper legal response is based on that State’s law.

If someone were to murder a person and then tried to clean up the evidence and hide the body, it’s obvious that they knew they had done something “wrong”. The legal definition/requirement of insanity would not have been met.

Well, that’s better to be more specific. I was referring to Dementia, Delirium, and various intoxications and substance use for psychiatric illnesses which tend to get called out for Legal “Insanity” vs. Medical “insanity”. Those are the some of the more common tricky cases where a brief period of psychosis may have occurred or some aberrant behavior, causing said person to run afoul of the law.

I certainly agree that there are plenty of mental illnesses that aren’t explained fully biologically yet, however, I was cautioning of using the brush to paint them all as such.

Question from someone who (most definitely) is not a lawyer, nor a psychiatrist. As far as I can understand, the legal definition of insanity is “cannot distinguish right from wrong”, and that things like trying to hide the murder weapon, or carefully planning ahead, point towards an ability to do so.

Let us consider this hypothetical: someone is deeply paranoid (of the “they are all going to get me” variety) (NB: as I said I am not a psychiatrist; maybe my understanding of paranoia is wrong). He is afraid that he will be killed by someone who is after him, and doesn’t dare to go to the police because he is convinced that they are in on the plot.

Anyway – this person finally goes and kills the person who, in his delirium, he sees as his main “persecutor”. But this persecutor is not the only one! There is a shadowy cabal of enemies who, if they were to find out that he (I refer to the paranoid individual here) had killed one of their number, they would undoubtedly take their revenge in force against him!

So, in order to protect himself from this imaginary organization, he does his best to hide the murder, and takes all conceivable steps to plan the murder so that he is not connected to it.

This is, obviously, a contrived situation. Nonetheless, in this hypothetical case, would it be possible to mount a successful insanity defense? Or would the fact that there was planning, premeditation and concealment automatically make that person legally responsible, even though they may have been genuinely in fear of his life? (if only through delirious ideation).

I have no answer, but would like to hear your opinion.

A defendant can not claim that they’re “CrAzY about that sort of thing” and shouldn’t be tried for violating the law. An insanity defense requires testing by experts. If the defendant’s state of mind, or the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the crime, can convince an expert that they were not “responsible” for their criminal conduct, the expert will either try to convey their reasoning to a jury or the State will confine the defendant to a hospital until they are able to stand trial.

Historically-speaking, first there was the “M’Naughten rule” which was replace by the “Durham Rule” which was replaced by the “Model Penal Code”.

“A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law” (Model Penal Code § 4.01[1]).

To answer your question, a truly paranoid person who believed that “everyone was out to get them” and believed they had to use lethal force to rid the world of their enemies (which includes everyone) is nuttier than a porta-potty at a peanut farm and should not be allowed to roam free in society. The State can order the defendant to submit to treatment in a State recognized mental heathcare facility until it’s believed that they are “sane” enought to stand trial. (Your State’s rules may vary.)

I’m not saying we can’t tell if someone is insane (usually) legally or medically. What I mean is there is no test (here, pee into this cup, deeeep breath, please stand in this Xray machine) where we can point to and say “A” has schizophrenia, “B” does not- or almost every other medical mental health problem. We’re not even close to that level of understanding. We don’t even have real drugs to treat the problem, we just put people into a lethargic haze which minimizes the risk of “attacks”. We instead have to rely on people who are fallible, but have dealt with many such cases, who check off a long list of symptoms and say “it’s very likely A has this problem.”

Educated people in a field have agendas just like you and I. Some are smart and honest and impartial, and some can testify to what is needed for cash, and some are partial to a certain interpretation of the facts.

Determining if a person is legally insane is best done by explaining things to 12 people off the street and see if it passes the sniff test to them, as well as to the experts paid to testify.