Surely, you must have read about or either recalls the story where former US President Ronald Reagan got shot back in the 1980s, right? Well, the man who attempted his assassination tried to put forward an insanity defense when he was put on trial for the crime. In case you did not know, insanity defense is a type of defense where the person who is charged with an offense would admit that he committed a crime, but would claim that he is not responsible for it due to mental illness. Simply put, he would be found not guilty by reason of being insane. But given its privileges and coverage, this way of defense has become one of the hottest legal topics in debates around the world. To have a good idea about it on our end, let us take a look at its pros and cons.
List of Pros of Insanity Defense
1. It creates an instant atmosphere of guilt.
For an insanity defense to work, the defense party should admit that the crime did happen, but the defendant actually did not commit it. So, rather than trying to dispute the facts, the goal is to find the defendant as being innocent because his mental state. Due to the fact that many societies do not want to give punishments to people who do not genuinely know what is right from wrong, the trial’s evaluation would becomes more about an individual’s state of mind, rather than the actual case facts where harm was caused.
2. It does not allow death penalty.
One huge advantage of insanity defense is that the accused could avoid penalized with death, even if he were proven guilty. In the context of crime, the sentence can be very lenient as compared with an accused who is proven to be guilty, but is not proven insane.
3. It can save a life.
If a person really does have mental incapacity, and it will be considered that his condition has caused him to commit a capital crime, which means the defense could save his life. Put in mind that a capital crime carries a punishment of eventual death. However, being found not guilty because of insanity means that a capital punishment is out of the question. It could mean that the accused would just be housed at a professional mental health treatment center. Though it might not be jail, still it gets him off the streets.
4. It charges lenient sentencing.
Simply by the virtue of insanity, a person can get some respite from the court. While he will be declared medically and criminally insane, he would not be tried under the same circumstances as an accused individual who is in his right mind. These two reasons are the primary bases why insanity pleas are used in cases where they are applicable.
5. It can lead to a no-jail term or possible acquittal.
In some cases, people who are accused of crimes can avoid being imprisoned if proven insane. Though the chance of acquittal has become slimmer over the years, it is still possible that a person might get some reprieve. It is likely that he would be sent to a psychiatric facility and may even be set free after staying there. However, it is not guaranteed that an accused would be entirely acquitted.
List of Cons of Insanity Defense
1. It is abolished in some jurisdictions.
Take note that insanity defense is not accepted at all jurisdictions in all courts. Some have abolished it, so a case might need to be transferred, which is quite unlikely unless a very convincing reason is there, to a jurisdiction that uses such a provision.
2. It can lead to increased trial costs.
If a party attempts to push insanity defense, then the trial’s cost will be increased. It is likely that the defense will hire specialists to evaluate the defendant in order to determine the level of existing mental illness. For the prosecuting team, they will also want to be involved in the process of specialist selection. Also, it is recorded that only 25% of insanity defenses were successful, and they only account for about 1% of the total cases that are handled by the justice system each year. What does this mean? Majority of people are found capable of standing trial, even if they attempt to push for an insanity plea.
3. It can be very difficult to prove.
This is certainly true, as mental illness or a history of it has to be proved by endorsing it to an expert, given the seriousness or gravity of the crime. Even so, it would be eventually up to the judge or the jury to accept or reject insanity defense. Also, it might happen that, despite being proven insane, an accused person may still be proven guilty and given an adequate sentence as per the law, even death.
4. It does not guarantee relief.
Often, it is perceived that insanity pleas are a clever ploy. However, it is certainly not. In fact, being relieved from a jail sentence even if an accused had to stay in a psychiatric facility is not always a good thing. It is likely that such stay will be more taxing for the accused, and there is always a chance to get cured and then sentenced as a sane and normal person.
5. It can lead to rejection.
Because of abuse of insanity defense in the past, judges, juries and prosecutors, these days, have become more cautious. So, every time it is put forth, it would ring alarm bells, where every person involved would become overly conscious of all arguments in favor or against the defense party. It is become more difficult to use insanity defense to prove an accused not guilty or reduce his jail term.
According to recent statistics regarding insanity pleas, there is a significant rise in these cases across the US. However, based on the pros and cons listed above, do you think insanity defense is really good for the society, or not?
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.