The Insanity Plea – Part 1

Is a person responsible for his behavior if insane or brainwashed? In the past, legislative and judicial proceedings in America have answered no, allowing for what is called the insanity plea. To that I say: the insanity plea is itself crazy. It makes a mockery of logic and justice.
I am not discussing the death penalty here. Rather, my concern is personal accountability for crimes and enlightened treatment of criminals. We should be clear about the basis for punishment and incarceration. My position begins with this principle: There is no substitute for personal accountability and nothing more dangerous for society than to allow a person, regardless of his state of mind, to escape the consequences of his actions.
Because of murder trials in which the accused have pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, admitted killers have literally gotten away with murder—legally. The insanity plea allowed judges to sentence them to mental hospitals for observation and treatment. There they were found sane and then released by a judge because they cannot be tried twice for the same crime. That acquittal is nothing less than an atrocity.
It is legislative and judicial insanity that this should be allowed to happen. Ensuring citizens safety from violence ought to be a prime objective of legislation in any enlightened society. Yet many law-abiding Americans live in fear of crime in the streets and in their homes because “law and order” isn’t working effectively. When things get to the point of absolving confessed killers, that’s just plain disorder and benightedness.
Some people feel the legal system should be compassionate with criminals. Others feel it should be tougher. Can compassion and judicial sternness work together? I say they can, but only if each is properly understood.
In a free society such as America, laws are made to control behavior, not states of mind. So the second principle in my position is this: A defendant’s mental state should have no bearing whatsoever on whether he is found guilty of committing a crime. He may be insane, brainwashed, drug-crazed, hypnotically programmed, “possessed” by an evil spirit, have multiple personality disorder or be otherwise non compos mentis and incapable of telling right from wrong (e.g., retardation or mere adolescence with its incomplete moral development), but that should only be taken into account after the finding. If a person is genuinely unbalanced, he can be given a sentence which includes appropriate treatment to restore mental health, whether the treatment be psychiatry, deprogramming, detoxification or even exorcism. Then, if treatment is successful, the case should be reviewed. The person should serve the rest of his sentence unless the preponderance of expert opinion feels that pardon or commutation is in order. At that point compassion becomes proper—but not before.
This position applies across the entire spectrum of mind states and motives leading to criminal behavior. I include in that even mercy killings where a spouse or family member terminates the life of a hopelessly incurable invalid. Although the murderer’s motivation may be love and tender concern rather than hatred, greed or some other negative emotion, that is no excuse. It is only an explanation to be considered in sentencing.
(To be concluded)

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