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The Insanity Plea Essay, Research Paper

The insanity defense traces its history to an 1843 assassination attempt on British Prime Minister Robert Peel. Now, about a third of the states allow a guilty by reason of insanity plea (Witkin, 7). Fortunately, on the contrary to popular belief, only one percent of felony cases led to a ruling of not guilty by reason of insanity. When a killer is ruled not guilty by reason of insanity, they are simply turned loose to reek havoc on society as a whole, while the victims families must deal with the pain and suffering. I will therefore argue in favor of the proposition that the insanity defense be abolished.

First, it is very hard to judge whether or not a subject is insane. In the case of Kevin E. Reichardt, a sophomore from the University of North Carolina, who was killed by Wendell Williamson, Williamson was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Psychiatrists all agreed the fact that Williamson was indeed insane at the time of the murder. But one of the defense mental health experts testified on the stand that her decision was the best guess. Typically, experts will generally tell what state of mind they feel or think the defendant is in (Schlosser, 50). One cannot deem someone insane just by beliefs. Another case involves a woman being slain by the shotgun killer of the Washington D.C. area. The suspect s enraged brother wrote to the gunman, I don’t know why you shot her: gang initiation? Crazy on drugs? Plain crazy?” (Schlosser, 50). The suspect was ruled not guilty by reason of insanity, even though there was evidence he tried to evade detection from this, as well as other killings. If there is no possible way to determine through hard evidence that a suspect is indeed insane or mentally unstable, there should not even be a question on the innocence.

Also, using the insanity plea is just another way for a person to flee from their personal responsibilities. In many cases, a person charged for a violent act of indiscretion, has blamed their reason on various sources including, drugs, alcohol, and even junk food. One case applies to a criminal claiming cultural psychosis when she killed another girl over a coat. Her reason was for the inner-city trauma that affects many others (Brownfield, 10). This is a perfect example of how we are allowing society to just brush off their wrongful decisions by either blaming society or their past. For about one hundred years, our country has termed criminal insanity as whether or not the criminal knows what they are doing at the time of the incident nor do they know about the degree of the crime. But psychiatrists argue that the word know omitted emotional and unconscious aspects of behavior, as set forth by Freud and others (Brownfield, 10). But instead they now use the term temporarily insane to excuse criminals. Once again, people are finding ways excuse individuals from taking responsibility for their actions. Not only are the criminals responsible, but so are the psychiatrists who are giving more and more reasons for criminals to get away with their actions.

Another problem with the insanity plea is that the defendants may actually be at a disadvantage when they plea insane. In a mock trial, jurors were able to evaluate insanity plea. They were allowed to express their opinion on the matter of the insanity defense and the death penalty. Many felt that those who do use the insanity plea as their defense may have a disadvantage with the jury. The reason is because if the jury is for the death penalty, they may find it hard to believe that the criminal s mental and physical state can be just cause for a not guilty ruling (Poulson, 1065). This is just stating that a juror that believes in the death penalty will view the justification of a crime more different than one who opposes the death penalty. This statement was directly supported by the mock jurors verdict. 67% of the jury who believed in the death penalty voted guilty as opposed to 33% not guilty. This can be viewed as parallel to a real case involving the insanity defense. Many people may find the insanity hardly credible.

The insanity defense can be viewed as credible to some, but to many it is considered as just another way to get out of taking responsibility for one s actions. Although the insanity defense keeps it s theoretical and practical place in society, it will never receive full vocal support. And in California, insanity pleas have declined since 1980 (Science News, 383). This can be caused due to the adoption of a proposal in which criminals convicted of a crime due to insanity will be admitted into a hospital equal to that of a maximum prison. Criminals may have been discouraged at the penalty. This way, one can not get away with a crime by only having to go to a mental institute. Another proposal is letting the guilty by insanity criminals to go to a mental institute until they are cured, and upon their cure, they will be admitted into a prison to serve out the rest of their term. But it is also a hard task to decide whether or not a subject is or was insane at the time of the crime. The psychiatrists cannot make a solid determination and neither can the law enforcement officers due to their lack of experience and knowledge in the subject of psychology. The insanity defense also allows the guilty to get away with committing a crime with not much consequence.

Works Cited

Witkin, Gordon. (1998). What Does it Take to be Crazy?. U.S. News & World Report, 124, 7.

Schlosser, Eric. (1998). Insanity Defense: Unconsciable Impact of Victims. USA Today Magazine, 126, 50.

Brownfield, Allan, C. (1994). Defense Attorneys Mad About Insanity Defense. Human Events, 50, 10.

Poulson, Ronald L. (1997). Mock Jurors Evaluation of Insanity Defense Verdict. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 12, 1065.

Unknown Author. (1991). Insanity Test Revisions Miss The Mark. Science News, 39, 1-4.


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