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The Costs of the Insanity Defense

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The criminal justice system is flawed, and it is letting many people take advantage of it. One reason they can do that is a defense tactic called the criminal insanity defense. The criminal insanity defense is used in court to lesser the blame on a criminal defendant by pleading they were mentally ill at the time of the crime. (Prerost, 2017) This is also known as the “not guilty by reason of insanity plea (NGIR)”. (Prerost, 2017) To successfully pass the criminal insanity defense, the defendant must convince the jury that they were mentally ill at the time of the crime and be diagnosed by a mental health expert. (Prerost, 2017) The first instance that this tactic was used was in 1843 and was referred to as the “knowing right from wrong rule” (Prerost, 2017) Though this law is supposed to help reduce the blame on those mentally insane, it is rarely used in only one percent of all cases and is successful only twenty-six percent of the time. (Maidman, 2016, p. 16) The first time this was used in American courts started in the year of 1954, and they stated that criminals may not be responsible if a mental defect were the cause of their actions. (Prerost, 2017) This essay will cover the reasons why the criminal insanity defense should be abolished. The costs associated with this is how it is very hard to prove mental insanity, problems with the criminal insanity tactic. One notable example of when this tactic was used was the assassination of the United States president Ronald Reagan. John Hinckley was the man who shot him and was pleaded criminally insane. (Prerost, 2017) A Canadian example of the insanity defense was when Christopher Husbands shot and killed a Chinese student at Toronto’s Eaton Center in June of 2012 and was deemed criminally insane and not responsible for the crime. (Lorrigio, 2014) Some studies that were released by the Government of Canada showed that one in every five “not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder” (NCRMD) case involved major assault, and forty-eight percent of all the cases are people that are aged twenty-five to fifty-four years old. (Miladinovic, 2015) People with mental illnesses who commit crimes should be held responsible of their actions and should get the same punishment as every other criminal.

The insanity defense is a very controversial topic, and some factors that could be associated with that would be that it is a very difficult process to go through and that it is not always going to be reliable. The process is always against the defendant in many ways, and there is always going to be obstacles standing in the way to successfully pass the criminal insanity defense. In the courtroom, the first thing you must battle is the mental health specialist. Patients often must reach a substantial threshold to be mentally insane, and it is not very easy to reach that limit. (Loriggio, 2014) Most of the time, it can be very difficult as the specialist to correctly diagnose a mental illness. (Maidman, 2016, p. 17) A study was released that reported that most people with a mental illness would be judged sane if the current tests were applied to them. (Kalson, 2000) With human error always in play when working on a patient, it can be very tough if someone with a mental illness was rejected mental insanity. The next thing that is in the way is the jury. A report was released that stated that eighty percent of all cases where a defendant was found not guilty due to mental insanity was because the jury had already agreed to it before the plea. That is not fair because their biases are deciding the case, not the evidence. ‘For charges likely to attract only a short sentence, the defense is naturally disinclined to run the not criminally responsible defense because the practical reality is that for such offences, accused persons will spend far longer in a custodial setting if found not criminally responsible than they would if simply found guilty,’ said David Butt (Loriggio, 2014) Biases as found out can really be the key factor of a very critical case. Of course, this is not always what happens bet there is always a chance. The insanity defense is a very tough process because of biases and human error playing such a key factor in a case.

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The second major cost of the criminal insanity defense is how flawed the system is entirely. The definition of criminal insanity is that the defendant was not responsible for their actions at the time of the criminal act. When the United States started to use this in their court rooms, they used a system called “The M’Naughten Law” (Cevallos, 2015) The “M’Laughten Law” states that a criminal is deemed criminally insane and not responsible of the crime if they did not know right from wrong at the time of the crime and did not understand the nature of the act. (Cevallos, 2015) Some key problems with that law is that it focuses mainly on the cognitive ability of a person, and not self-control. If a person can overcome the urge to commit a crime, but still does it the mental illness should not play a factor in the case altogether. (Cevallos, 2015) The next major problem that makes the justice system flawed is that it relies on normal, regular people that are serving as jury duty. Every person has their own judgements and biases, and that can make a big factor in a case. (Loriggio, 2014) “You can’t take 12 people, average people who have never spent two seconds contemplating the legal insanity defense and give them the authority to make these determinations. It’s just simply too complex. But that’s our system, and that’s the best we got. …’ (Rosen, 2001) This quote is portraying a big problem with the criminal justice system, and it’s that they are overworking and relying on the jurors so much and they have the same judgement as anyone else. Laws are getting more and more complex every day and it is all being mounted on top of the jury to work on it. As it shows, the criminal justice system is very far from perfect today. As laws become more and more complex, more controversies are happening in relation to the justice system that is so inconsistent and unreliable.

The last major cost of the criminal justice system is its controversies about the criminals that go through this process and after it. In most cases, nobody will stand on the side of the criminal and the case is very lopsided. The defendant must overcome the public views and the jury to get they are not criminally responsible case across. (Kalson, 2000) A big problem is how the Government handles the criminal after they get released from the mental health care facility. In one case, Jeffrey Arenburg said after his treatment, he returned to his hometown and no further details for any future treatments. (Sisler, 2014) This is very scary because of how poorly the system handles the criminals that come out after treatment, and back into society. Then, people that are released struggle in society due to many stigma’s associated with their tag of the not criminally responsible plea. “I’m getting slapped in the face, trying to be a civilized person.” (Sisler, 2014) Jeffrey Arenburg is struggling with the stigma of the not criminally responsible name tag. He says that he is struggling to start up a business and is surviving off mental disability cheques. “Taking someone’s life is one of the big taboos in our society and basically it’s a small town. People know who he is and know what he’s done, and they’re concerned.” says a local police chief in Nova Scotia (Sisler, 2014) He says he has gotten restraining orders that does not allow him to go to public places because of the public view of his stigma. “Because I had that episode don’t mean I have paranoid schizophrenia every second after I’m found that way, every second of every day, even until now.” (Sisler, 2014) If the Government wants to increase safety, they should focus a bit more on how they help those who come out of the system after their treatment is done.

In our society, those with mental disorders that break the law should just as guilty from their actions as any other person. In the final analysis, criminal insanity is a very controversial topic that is very debatable on both sides on whether it works or not. Briefly, the criminal insanity tactic can be very hard to diagnose on many patients. (Maidman, 2016, p. 17) This leads to misdiagnoses and many people fail to receive the best treatment or punishment that they should be getting based on their human rights. Secondly, there is a lot of backlash against the justice system regarding the criminal insanity defenses. Some examples of the many problems associated with it includes its conflict with the law place-to-place or even basic human rights. (Cevallos, 2015) Lastly, the criminal insanity defense has a lot of controversies such as how it handles prisoners who come out of the system, or the public view and perception of former prisoners who went through the system and is currently on the streets due to the stigma against them. (Sisler, 2014) The criminal justice system is a very flawed system in such a complex world, and yet it is one of the most powerful systems in the government. The system must be fixed to prevent any more controversies. The decisions that are made in the courtrooms could change people’s lives and it is not very reliable.

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