Most probably, you must have heard about the incident where former US President Ronald Reagan was shot, back in the 1980s. As you can see, the person who performed the assassination attempt tried to push an insanity defense by the time he was under litigation for the crime. In a case like this, the accused would admit that he committed the crime, but would not claim the responsibility for the reason that he is mentally ill.
Basically, the accused would be found “not guilty” because he is insane. Because of its coverage and the privileges it provides, this type of defense has been one of the hottest topics in legal debates, not only in the US, but all around the world. To build a good opinion about the insanity defense, it is important to take a look at its pros and cons.
List of Pros of the Insanity Defense
1. It can result in possible acquittal or a no-jail term.
In many circumstances, those who are accused of crimes are able to avoid incarceration if proven insane. While the chance of cases being acquitted under this type of defense has become slimmer over the years, it is still possible that the accused might receive some reprieve, where the possibility is high that that he will just be sent to a psychiatric facility and would even be set free after his stay there. However, it is not a guarantee that such a case will be entirely acquitted.
2. It disavows the death penalty.
One significant advantage of the insanity defense is that the person charged with the crime can avoid the death penalty, even if it is proven that he is guilty. In the context of crime, the sentence may be very lenient, as compared with the one to be given to an accused who is proven to be guilty and is sane in all aspects.
3. It promotes an atmosphere of guilt instantly.
For this type of defense to work, the accused party must admit that the crime did take place, but the charged individual “actually” did not commit it. Instead of trying to dispute the facts, their goal would be to prove that the accused is innocent because of his mental state. And because a lot of societies do not give punishments to those who do not have the genuine mental capacity to know what is right from wrong, the evaluation of the trial would become more about the person’s state of mind, instead of the actual case facts where harm was caused.
4. It bestows lenient sentences.
While an accused will be declared medically and criminally insane, he would get respite from the court and would not be tried the same way as how an accused with the right mind will be. These are primarily the bases why insanity defenses are used in cases where they can be applied.
5. It can help save lives.
If the accused is truly having a mental illness, it will be considered that his condition is the cause for him committing a capital offense, which entails that his defense can save his life. Remember that capital crimes carry a punishment of eventual death, but being found not guilty because of insanity will make such a sentence out of the question, where the accused would only be put in a mental health treatment center to get him off the streets.
List of Cons of the Insanity Defense
1. It may result in rejection.
Because the insanity defense has been abused in the past, prosecutors, juries and judges have become more cautious when dealing with it. These days, every time this plea is put forth, it would ring alarm bells, where everyone who is involved would become very conscious of all arguments, whether they are in favor or against the accused. It has become more difficult to use this type of defense to prove an accused not guilty or to decrease his jail term.
2. It can contribute to an increase in trial costs.
If a defense party attempts to push this type of plea, then the cost of the trial would increase, as it is highly possible that they will hire specialists to assess accused to determine the level of the existing mental condition. For the prosecutors, they would also want to be involved in choosing the specialist to be hired. And according to records, just about 25% of insanity defenses have been successful, which only account for about 1% of all cases that are being handled by the justice system in the US each year. This entails that most people are found capable of standing trial, even if they try to plead for insanity.
3. It is not implemented in some jurisdictions.
It is important to note that the insanity defense is not accepted in all courts and jurisdictions. Because of this, a case may need to be transferred, which is also quite unlikely unless there is a very convincing reason to hear it in a court that allows such a provision.
4. It does not offer 100% guarantee for relief.
It is often perceived that this type of defense is just a clever ploy to get away with a crime. And if an accused do manage to be relieved from a jail sentence, he will still be placed in a psychiatric facility, which is not a good thing at all times.
5. It is very difficult to prove in many circumstances.
Having a mental illness or a history of it needs to be proven by an expert, given the seriousness of the crime. And in the end, it is still up to the jury or judge to accept or reject an insanity plea. There are even cases where the accused was proven insane, but was still proven guilty and received a lawful sentence.
According to statistics pertaining to the insanity defense, there has been a substantial increase of cases where it is being used across the country. By assessing the pros and cons that are listed above, what do you think about this plea? Is it helpful to society, or not?