Directons: Please read the article below
Questions: What are your thoughts about the "insanity
Is there a place for it? Should it continue to be allowed in court? Support your position with evidence, besides just having an opinion about it.
The The Insanity Defense
and the Unabomber Trial
by Barbara R. Sarason, University of Washington;
? 1998 Peregrine Publishers, Inc., All Rights Reserved
For weeks, jury selection was underway in the sensational trial of Theodore Kaczynski, accused of carrying out a string of bombings over a period of 18 years that killed 3 people and wounded 23 others. Kaczynski's defense
lawyers contend that the Unabomber suspect is affected by paranoid schizophrenia. They argue that this "mental defect" leaves him incapable of forming the intent necessary to be held criminally responsible for his alleged crimes--specifically the four bombings being examined in this first trial. His defense
team claims that this mental disorder makes it impossible for Kaczynski to understand his actions or to resist his impulses to harm those who, by his paranoid thinking, are responsible for "great evil." Even if the prosecution convinces the jury he committed the bombings, they say, he should nevertheless be acquitted of the crime or at least spared execution. Kaczynski has insisted that he is not mentally ill and has refused to be examined by court psychiatrists. The defense
argues that his illness underlies this insistence and indeed controls his whole existence, rendering him powerless to behave independently. By contrast, prosecutors maintain that Kaczynski's detailed plans and voluminous writings reveal that he fully intended to cause harm with the mail bombs he allegedly built and sent.
This cases hinges on the insanity defense
, but what exactly is it? "Insanity
" refers to a person's state of mind at the time he or she carried out an act, not to whether the person could later understand the criminal charges and participate in a cogent defense
against them. Insanity
, in other words, is a legal, not a medical term. The majority of people who have a diagnosed mental illness would not be considered insane under the current legal tests for insanity
. During a history of more than a century and a half, the courts have defined the insanity defense
in various ways. The 1843 M'Naughten rule used the criteria of knowing right from wrong. The later Dunham rule stresses "irresistible impulse," meaning that the person has no control over his or her behavior by reason of insanity
. A combination of those ideas is the current standard.
Opposition to the use of the insanity defense
mounted after John Hinkley, in an attempt to gain the attentions of film star Jodie Foster, tried to assassinate former president Ronald Reagan and was subsequently acquitted "by reason of insanity
." Some states eliminated the defense
altogether or tightened the criteria for it. Opponents of this defense
argue that people should always be held responsible for their actions. David Gelernter, for example, one of the Unabomber's victims, wrote a memoir ( 2) in which he questions society's current tolerant values in evaluating behavior rather than holding people responsible for personal actions. He cites as an example of this "distortion of values" People magazine's choice of the Unabomber as one of the most fascinating people of 1996.
In a contrasting view, forensic psychologist Barbara Kirwin argues that the "state of mind" insanity defense
is critical (4). She believes the way it is currently administered, however, renders it almost useless. Kirwin is a strong advocate for the mentally ill, but in trials, she usually appears for the prosecution and focuses on separating the truly insane from malingerers. She believes the current system, which features in-court battles between expert witnesses for the benefit of juries, should be replaced by a judge's assignment of certified professionals to evaluate defendants outside of court and file reports.
Most people believe that the insanity defense
is used frequently and helps criminals "beat the rap" for their crimes. In fact, defense
attorneys use it in only about 1 percent of felony cases and succeed with it only about one-sixth of the time. Because the insanity defense
is usually perceived as an admission of guilt, the defendant usually receives a longer-than-normal sentence if the jury rejects the plea of innocence by reason of insanity
and finds him or her deliberately guilty of the crime. Even those declared legally insane and not responsible for their crimes are usually confined to psychiatric hospitals and are likely to remain there longer than the prison sentence for an equivalent crime
Cirincione, C. (1996). Revisiting the insanity defense
: Contested or consensus? Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 24, 165-176.
Gelernter, D. Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997.
Glaberson, W. Unabomb trial may prove landmark on illness plea: Does insanity
end responsibility for crime? New York Times, Dec. 9, 1997, p. A14.
Kirwin, B. R. The Mad, the Bad, and the Innocent: The Criminal Mind on Trial. Boston: Little, Brown, 1997.
Neumann, C. S., Walker, E. F., Weinstein, J, & Cutshaw, C. (1996). Psychotic patients' awareness of mental illness: Implications for legal defense
proceedings. Journal of Psychiatry and Law, 24, 421-442.
The Insanity Defense
. American Psychiatric Association. 1997. This web site provides answers to common questions about the insanity defense
and also corrects frequent misconceptions concerning it. (10 Dec. 1997)
History of Insanity
. A brief summary of the insanity defense
with relevant ideas ranging from the ancient Egyptians to modern times. (10 Dec 1997)
New York Times on the web. This site provides both up-to-date articles about the Unabomber trial and the ability to search for past articles on the insanity defense
, including book reviews. Select "Table Of Contents," hit "Search the Site" (under "Daily Features") then enter "Insanity Defense
." (10 Dec. 1997)
[ Order Custom Essay ]
[ View Full Essay ]