The insanity defense can be characterized as the offender, who has mental defects or diseases can influence his ability to form mens rea – to have a guilty intent to commit a crime. It means that the defendant has committed the crime but there is lack of culpability, inability to think rationally, to define wrongfulness and consequences of actions performed, and to control the behavior due to mental illness. The following forms of the insanity defense are identified in the United States:
The most common defense applied in the United States is the M’Naghten insanity defense, in which the defendant is diagnosed to have “disease of mind” or “reason defect”. It means that the offender should possess some mental diseases, such as psychoses, schizophrenia, paranoia that do not let him or her to cognitively understand the criminal act by its nature and quality of the committed crime; the defendant does not differentiate between right and wrong legal and illegal acts.
According to Schouten, the basic idea of the insanity defense is that not all criminal acts are committed by mentally or psychologically healthy people. Therefore, we should interpret the understanding of the fact that offenders who lack the ability to think rationally, who do not control their behavior and inner impulses, who cannot determine the wrongfulness and consequences of their actions, should not be pledged guilty for their “mental sickness.” (Schouten, 2012) Such individuals can possess danger to the society and themselves, therefore, they are being examined, monitored and controlled with the help of high-professional supervisors.
In the United States, we can point out some key issues when we can apply the procedure of insanity: availability, definition, and burden of proof. A forensic psychiatrist is evaluating the information about the defendant’s history of early crimes, his background, psychological portrait, the information about the time of committing a crime. After that, the psychiatrist is interviewing the defendant about possible understanding of what has happened, why the crime was committed. Moreover, various testimonies from the defendant, the victim, the court, the prosecutor are being analyzed. These testimonies may be influenced by the history of disease or new diagnosis, presence of legally relevant impairments. All of the above-mentioned helps the professional to make the decision whether the defendant is legally competent to stand trial or not.
Psychologist who is used as an expert witness to prove or disprove an insanity defense, move from factual data about an individual’s behavior to opinions of the prosecutor, the court of being guilty. Mainly, the empirical data is based on psychological tests, while another component is a diagnostic one during which they can decide, basing on their skills about the possibility that the offender has mental illnesses. Finally, the last testimony level can be observed as the ultimate factual question for the jury to solve. In accordance with the severity of a case, additional investigations, such as physical assessment or hospitalization. According to Levine, the forensic psychologist should have a qualified experience; have a PhD degree that allows him to be identified as a person, who is competent in a scientific sense. That gives him the opportunity to make a diagnosis of the existence and character of mental disorders and provide an opinion whether there was a causal connection between mental disease and committing the criminal act. (Levine, 1971)
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