Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is the Insanity Plea Sane?

The M’Naughten Rules, alluded to in A Time to Kill, state the insanity plea can be used if the defendant at the time of the crime did not understand the wrongful nature of the act.The“irresistible impulse" rule adds if the defendant understood the action was illegal but was mentally incompetent at the time, the defendant may be found innocent. The Durham rule requires a psychiatrist to testify as to the defendant's competency, whereas the Brawner rule allows jurors to make that decision while reaching a verdict.

The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, following the attempted assassination of President Reagen, ruled a person may be found not guilty by reason of insanity if severe mental disturbance existed and the person could not understand the wrongfulness of the act committed. “Temporary insanity” is deemed as "a lack of substantial capacity to control one's behavior.” A defendant found to be temporarily insane can be released without psychiatric treatment mandated. (To study the insanity plea, consult:
Frontline online and a Cornell University Law School document.)

How is the insanity plea used in A Time to Kill? What are your views on the insanity plea? Post your comments.

Image from A Time to Kill movie website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Civil Rights Bill Changes History

The Mississippi Burning case of the three civil rights workers listed as missing culminated in the tragic discovery six weeks later of their murders. Their disappearance garnered national attention in June of 1964, simultaneous to the contentious national debate on the proposed Civil Rights Act, which was finally passed July 2, 1964.

The landmark act prohibited discrimination based on race, gender, religion, and country of origin in the workplace, and also outlawed segregation in public places, including schools, restaurants, theaters, and hotels, thereby challenging the long-term Jim Crow segregation practices of the South.

Initiated by John F. Kennedy in 1963, upon his assassination, the banner of the Civil Rights Act became the legacy of President Lyndon, and not without struggle, during a tumultuous year until the bill’s final passage in the summer of 1964. This historic act not only made segregation illegal but also paved the way for many of the rights Americans enjoy today. The Equal Employment clause in hiring practices stems from the act, and the act established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to oversee the administration of the policies set forth. Under Title VI of the act, discrimination in federal funded programs was prohibited, resulting in considerable reforms in educational institution policy and practice.

The Civil Rights Act also set the stage for passage of the Title IX of the Education Act of 1972, which forbade gender discrimination in education programs receiving federal funding. The result of this newer act led to a multitude of athletic and other programs giving females parity with males. For instance, although not the stable, athletic teams for girls were now introduced in high schools and the map of college sports changed forever.

How do you believe the Civil Rights Act has affected your own life, be it academically, in the workplace, or otherwise? What differences do you see it making in the lives of others? How does the period of upheaval witnessed in the film Mississippi Burning help us appreciate the rights granted by the act? How has this film helped you to understand history in terms of where we are today?

Image from: www.corporateservices.noaa.g

Monday, October 6, 2008

John Grisham: Prolific Writer

John Grisham, author of the novel, A Time to Kill, started his career as a lawyer. On the side, he wrote A Time to Kill, which became his first succesfully published work and the impetus behind his career as a literary figure. As a writer with background in law, he enjoys unusual expertise as a novelist. He writes novels based on firsthand knowledge of the criminal justice system. Although A Time to Kill was his first novel, it was not his first work to be adapted to the cinema. The following titles as adaptations predate A Time to Kill:

The Firm. Dir. Sydney Pollack. Paramount Pictures, 1993.
The Pelican Brief. Dir. Alan J. Pakula. Warner Bros., 1993.
The Client. Dir. Joel Schumacher. Warner Bros., 1994.
The Chamber. Dir. James Foley. Universal Pictures, 1996.

A Time to Kill published as a novel in 1989 was not released as a film until 1996.

Since 1996, Grisham has had the following works adapted to film.

The Rainmaker. Dir. Francis Coppola. Constellation Films, 1997.
The Gingerbread Man. Dir. Robert Altman. Enchanter Entertainment, 1998.
A Painted House. Dir. Alfonso Arau. Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions and CBS-TV, 2003.
Runaway Jury. Dir. Gary Fleder. New Regency Pictures, 2003.
The Street Lawyer. Dir. Paris Barclay. Touchstone Television and ABC-TV, 2003.
Mickey. Dir. Hugh Wilson. Original screenplay by John Grisham. Mickey Productions, 2004. Christmas with the Kranks. Dir. Joe Roth. Skipping Christmas Productions, 1492 Pictures, and Revolution Studios, 2004.

By no means is Grisham not successful as both a novelist and collaborator; he often collaborates on adaptations of his work, including writing the screenplays. Of note, his recent work, Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town, is his first work of non-fiction, and it traces the innocence of several men sentenced to capital punishment for murders they did not commit. Some escaped execution within a matter of minutes. Grisham, a popular writer, enjoys a cult following as well as broad appeal. His works consistently expose readers to theme of social injustice mitigated by the possibilities of redemption.

To learn more about Grisham’s commitment to social justice, complemented by his background in the field of law, visit this website maintained by the University of Mississippi, his alma mater: The Mississippi Writers Page: John Grisham. Post your responses about Grisham as a writer, film collaborator, and expert in the law field upon previewing the site, and let us know if you have seen any of the movies based on upon his works or read his books, and if so, what your response was.
Photo of Grisham is from the Mississippi Writers' site, specifically: //

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Justice For All

Review from YouTube the video on Mississippi Burning called by clickin on this link: "Justice for All." After reviewing the video, post your responses to it on our course blog.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Voter Power

The movie Mississippi Burning is a reminder of the extent to which African-Americans not long ago in the South went to access their constitutional right to vote. People died for the cause. Yet, to what extent today are college students who don't have to face that struggle exercising their right?

In Connecticut, according to Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz, young people have registered to vote in record numbers. Last month alone, 70,000 people between the ages of 18 to 29 registered to vote. Overall 1.97 million people in the state are registered. Among them, 728,000 are registered Democrats, and 413,000 are registered Republicans.

For those in the state who have not registered to vote, the deadline by mail is Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 for in-person registration at municipal offices.

Given what is witnessed in Mississippi Burning, why is it that some are willing to die to uphold the constitutional right to vote, whereas others with easy access, don’t exercise the right? Post your comments.

Factual information supplied from:,0,4369325.story