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.


jackie said...

For me, using the insanity plea seems like a way to beat the system, and indeed in the movie that is what Matthew McCaughney's character did. I feel that sometimes the claim of pleading insanity is legit, however, most of the time it is convicts trying to escape punishment.

Hannah said...

I agree with you Jackie, the insanity plea tends to be used as an easy way out of jail time. However, in some causes it is feasible that a convict could have been insane when carrying out a crime because they were caught up in the moment and did not realize that their actions would have consequences.

Melissa said...

I agree that the insanity plea is often used to get a lighter jail sentence for the accused. Although the lawyer can put in this plea, I think the success of the insanity defense really hinges on the testimony of the mental health expert. I think this could be a potential source of corruption. This was seen in the movie the DA's witness admitted to denying that people were insane so that he could get business for his hospital. On the other hand, mental health experts could also be bribed into agreeing with a false insanity plea in exchange for some personal favor.