Free Standard for Legal Insanity Essay Sample

The law presumes all persons to be sane and to possess sufficient degree of reason to be responsible for his crimes, until the contrary is proved in defense. A defendant is deemed insane if he or she has a mental infirmity, disease, or defect. Insanity, if proven, is a defense as it is held that the defendant is not guilty for reason of insanity and therefore is not subject to sanction for the criminal offences he/she has committed. Two options have been put forward to establish insanity. The first states that, at that time of committing the crime, the defendant did not know what he or she was doing or its consequences; and the second states that, although the defendant knew what he or she was doing and its consequences, the defendant did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong (The Florida Legislature, 2010). I strongly support this existing law because it broadly addresses the legal challenges that pertain to insanity.

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In reference to Gorisso & Borum (2003), the legal basis for the legal doctrine of insanity defense, is that insanity, which may be a consequence of disease or defect, diminishes one's capacity to exercise rational will in forming intent to act (p.193). To ascertain that a person is guilty of a crime, the law must prove that the individual, who committed the unlawful act, did so with unlawful intent. From the two options given, the controversies that arise are between: the defendant's knowledge of the nature and quality of the prescribed act or otherwise, and the knowledge or otherwise of the wrongfulness of the act at the time of committing that act. According to Reznek (1997), controversy has also been raised over when a mental illness or defect amounts to legal insanity (p.16). These controversies however have been overcome through various historical court rulings.

My strong support for the existing law on the legal basis for legal insanity emanates from the fact that this law has and will always undergo refinement through cases brought before the courts. M'Naghten's rule, which, according to Ahuja (2008), is the most commonly used test for insanity, holds that a person is insane if at the time of committing the act he was laboring under such a defect of mind from a disease of the mind as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong (p.1000). M'Naghten's rule is derived from an 1843 case involving a man who shot and killed Prime Minister Robert Peel's secretary thinking that it was Mr. Peel. He claimed that at the time of the crime, was insane and obsessed with morbid delusions. The jury found M'Naghten not guilty by reason of insanity due to the fact that the defendant did not know the nature and quality of the act and did not know whether the act was right or wrong. I agree that it is fundamental that an individual should be considered guilty only if, while at the time committing the crime, he/she was not aware that he/ she was breaking the law.

Rulings in other precedent court cases have helped shed light and refine the existing law

Casenotes (2007), in the case of State V. Crenshaw (1983), the conclusion was that insanity defense should differentiate right from wrong legally as opposed to morally. A wrong act committed on grounds of breach of morality cannot amount to legal insanity (p.145). In State V. Guido (1963), the conclusion was that a person who cannot make distinction between right and wrong is deemed legally insane, setting apart the controversy between mental illness and legal insanity(p.149). In addition, Casenotes (2007) makes it clear that intoxication does not constitute mental illness (p.146). Other cases that have contributed in diminishing controversy in legal insanity are United States V, Brawner (1972) and Clark V. Arizona (2006).

Although the knowledge of the nature and quality of an act is characteristic of sane people, I agree that it is possible for an insane person to fully understand the same, at the time of committing a crime, without knowing as to whether the act committed is right or wrong, and this is what should be legally excused as insanity.  However, if a defendant appears to clearly know the nature, quality and wrongfulness of the act, such as possession  of heroin due to addiction, for example, caution should be taken to ensure that the claim of insanity is not mere mental illness, and that at the time the crime was committed the defendant was truly insane. In a case in which insanity is claimed, the usual evidence of beyond any reasonable doubt does not apply. 

The abilty of the defendant to distinguish right from wrong is foundational in testing for legal insanity

To take into account occasional mental illnesses such as delusions and halluncinations which may trigger commission of a crime that can amount to legal insanity, investigation of the mental condition and intent of the defendant at the time of committing the crime is imperative. It should be appreciated, that the current laws on the test for insanity are a good legal foundation to build upon. It is significantly important to note that each case is unique and one law may not sufficiently prescribe each unlawful act and its remedy. Looking forward therefore, the varied and unique cases brought before our courts will serve to gradually refine that law pertains to legal insanity.


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