AuthorCollins, Eric
  1. INTRODUCTION 34 I. BRIEF HISTORY OF THE INSANITY DEFENSE 35 A. Criminal Act Requirements 35 B. The M'Naghten Test 36 C. Irresistible Impulse Test 37 D. The Durham Product Test 38 E. Model Penal Code Test 39 F. Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 41 II. ANALYSIS 43 A. Clark v. Arizona 44 B. Schiophrenia 47 C. Schizophrenia Causes 49 D. American Psychiatric Association on Legal Insanity 51 III. PROPOSING CHANGE 51 IV. WHY POTENTIAL CRITICISMS OF PROPOSED LEGISLATION ARE MISGUIDED 52 V. CONCLUSION 53 VI. PROPOSED STATUTE 54 I. INTRODUCTION

    In sentencing James Holmes, the shooter from the 2012 Aurora, Colorado massacre, (1) Judge Carlos A. Samour (2) stated, "James Holmes was an angry quitter who gave up on life and turned his hatred into murder and mayhem against innocent victims.It's almost impossible to comprehend how a human being is capable of such acts." (3) He sentenced Holmes to twelve consecutive life sentences equaling 3,318 years. (4)

    "The severity and intensity of his psychosis was so high so severe, as to render him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong." (5) A psychiatrist who treated James Holmes described him as an anti-social "odd-ball" who thought obsessively about killing people in the months before the shooting. (6) His psychiatrist testified that James Holmes had "homicidal thoughts" as often as three or four times a day in March 2012 and had an obsession with killing that was only getting worse. (7)

    This begs the question how does there exist a deeply divided dichotomy to describe the mental state of one man? The explanation is rooted in the definition of insanity. Insanity is a legal term of art that changes definitions depending on the legal standard in American jurisprudence. (8) This explains why a man who mental health professionals described as having an uncontrollable obsession with killing people can be found not insane and guilty. Nevertheless, would James Holmes' fate be different had John Hinckley been found guilty for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan?

    John Hinckley's attempted assassination on Ronald Reagan changed the course of the insanity plea. (9) John Hinckley successfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (10) The public outcry was such that there was a legislative push for a new insanity standard in the United States. The Hinckley verdict shocked the world and consequently birthed The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. The public push for a stricter standard made the passing of the act uncontroversial. (11)

    This article addresses the current state of the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 and its widespread implementation at the state level. Part II of this Note supplies background information on the history of the insanity defense and how it has transformed over the years in American jurisprudence. Part III provides an analysis of the of the insanity defense. Part IV suggests a new standard of for the insanity defense with a more accommodating application to a wider degree of mental diseases.


    1. Criminal Act Requirements

      To understand the history of the insanity defense it is paramount to understand the two elements required for a criminal offense. Outside of inchoate offenses, a criminal act requires a finding of causation: the actus reus and mens rea. (12) The actus reus is the wrongful act or omission that comprises the physical components of a crime. (13) The mens rea is the mental component of the crime comprised of guilty knowledge and willfulness. (14) In other words, a person is considered liable for the criminal act if during the offense he or she was believed to have a guilty state of mind. (15) The restraining of the insanity defense limits the inclusion of many mental diseases as being the true causation of criminal acts. The limiting of mental diseases does not allow for a greater understanding of whether the accused theoretically had the guilty state of mind required. Thus, in effect, the current insanity defense does not allow criminal justice to be achieved. The current insanity test is most similar to the M'Naghten test, created in 1843. (16)

    2. The M'Naghten Test

      Daniel M'Naghten suffered from delusions of persecution. (17) He considered the Prime Minister of England, Robert Peel, to be his major persecutor. (18) To alleviate himself of his perceived persecutor, M'Naghten traveled to London in 1843 intending to assassinate Peel. M'Naghten shot into the wrong carriage, which he believed was carrying the Prime Minister, but was in fact carrying Robert Peel's secretary, Edward Drummond. (19) M'Naghten's defense was based upon the Medical Jurisprudence of Insanity, which advocated "the human mind is not compartmentalized and that a defect in one aspect of the personality could spill over and affect other areas." (20) Lord Chief Justice Tindal was so impressed with this rationale that he essentially directed a verdict for M'Naghten. (21)

      The M'Naghten test, which was born from the M'Naghten case, came from the jury instructions from Lord Chief Justice Tindal. (22) In short, the M'Naghten test is a cognition test that determines whether a defendant knew right from wrong at the time of a crime. (23) The test determines whether a defendant had the requisite mens rea to form criminal intent at the time of a crime. (24) The test also puts the burden of proof on the defendant to prove he or she was insane at the time of a crime. (25) The M'Naghten test emphasizes knowledge of right or wrong. Thus, conceptualizing a single element of personality as the sole symptom of existence of a mental illness. (26) In practice, the test is an all-or-nothing approach, requiring total incapacity of cognition. (27) The difficulties of the applicability the M'Naghten led the to use the newly created Irresistible Impulse test. (28)

    3. Irresistible Impulse Test

      On January 31, 1885 Nancy and Joe Parsons shot and killed Bennett Parsons. (29) Nancy raised the defense of insanity, stating that the killing was the result of an insane delusion that the deceased, Bennet, possessed supernatural power to inflict her with disease and take her life. (30) Thus, Nancy claimed that she was under the insane delusion that she was in great danger of the loss of her life. (31) The court decided that the M'Naghten test was difficult to apply practically. (32) The Supreme Court of Alabama came up with a new standard for legal responsibility that created a volitional justification for not bearing criminal liability:

      If, by reason of duress of such mental disease, he had so far lost the power to choose between the right and wrong, and to avoid doing the act in question, as that his free agency was at the time destroyed; (2) and if at the same time the alleged crime was so connected with such mental disease, in the relation of cause and effect, as to have been the product of it solely. (33)

      The Irresistible Impulse test expounded on the M'Naghten test by requiring not only a mental disease, but also that the mental disease be the cause of the actions. (34) This expanded the M'Naghten test by not requiring a mental disease that caused the defendant to know the nature and quality of his act. (35) Therefore, there are a wider range of mental diseases for a defendant to have to successfully plead insanity. (36)

      There are many criticisms of the Irresistible Impulse Test. When applied in cases subsequent Parsons, difficulty arose as to how the test should be applied. The court stated, "We do not know that the impulse was irresistible, but only that it was not resisted." (37) The court went on to reject the Irresistible Impulse test, and apply the M'Naghten standard, where the defendant must be held responsible if he knew the nature and quality of the act, and of its wrongfulness. (38) A notable critic of the Irresistible Impulse test was Durham v. U.S court. (39)

    4. The Durham Product Test

      Monte Durham was convicted of housebreaking in 1951. (40) He asserted the defense that he was of an unsound mind at the time of the crime. (41) Durham had a long history of mental illness, and psychiatrists determined that he suffered from hallucinations and delusions. (42) During the psychiatrist's expert testimony, however, the psychiatrist was unable to formulate an opinion as to Durham's understanding of right from wrong. (43) The circuit judge applied a new rule to determine Durham's legal sanity at the time of the crime: "An accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or defect." (44) This rule required the giving of convoluted jury instructions thus relying heavily on expert testimony for the finder of fact to determine whether the defendant was insane at the time of the crime. (45) The test facilitated full and complete expert testimony and permitted the jury to consider all relevant information. (46)

      In application, the test faced many difficulties. (47) The Durham Product test tended to result in the expert witness assuming the jury function. (48) However, Federal Rules of Evidence 704(b) now protects expert witnesses from assuming the jury function and making legal conclusions about a defendant's mental state. (49) The rule was added into the evidentiary rules in 1984 after the passing of the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 to further limit expert testimony in criminal cases. (50) Expert testimony is now restricted to medical matters, and the expert is barred from making legal conclusions in court as to whether the defendant had the sufficient mens rea to be held criminally responsible. (51) While 704(b) was not added until 1984, the obvious problems with the Durham Product Test led to the American Law Institute to create own insanity definition. (52)

    5. Model Penal Code Test

      The American Law Institute created an insanity test for the 1962 Model Penal Code. The proposal for a new insanity rule was made in 1955. (53) The Model Penal Code relieves the defendant of...

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