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Insanity Defense Essays

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In 1997, Jesse Ernst and his older brother Ted went on a crime spree throughout the Bigfork area. The brothers burglarized several homes that year, and in one instance killed a neighbor when he attempted to intervene. Both brothers were sentenced to life in prison, however in an appeal Jesse was found not guilty because of mental disease or defect. Instead of spending life in prison, he was released from a mental hospital after only one year of treatment and is now “working, planning to become a missionary, and ‘doing very well’ according to his lawyer, Phyllis Quatman” (Sabol). Jesse Ernst’s case is a perfect example of the problems with the insanity defense plea today. Although there are a few cases in which this plea is very relevant, for the most part it is a plea used for defendants to escape full punishment for their crimes, and major changes need to be made.
In order to understand the complexities of this issue, we first need to understand the basic concepts of the insanity defense plea. According to Kimberly Collins, “An insanity defense is based on the theory that most people can choose to follow the law; but a few select persons cannot be held accountable because mental disease or disability deprives them of the ability to make a rational / voluntary choice. Such individuals need special treatment as opposed to prison; punishment is not likely to deter future antisocial conduct of these mentally diseased individuals” (Collins). It goes along with the idea that people should only be held accountable if they are aware of the wrongness of their actions, and that confinement of people who are unaware of their actions is inhumane (Schaefer). The problem with this is that it is hard for people to objectively decide that som...


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....Marcus, David K. "The Effects Of Neuroimaging And Brain Injury On Insanity Defenses." Behavioral Sciences & The Law 26.1 (2008): 85-97. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 8 May 2012.
Sabol, Chery. "Ernst Verdict Makes History." The Daily Interlake [Kalispell] 21 May 2001: unknown. Print.
Schaefer, Michele N. , and Joseph D. Bloom. "The Use of the Insanity Defense as a Jail Diversion Mechanism for Mentally Ill Persons Charged With Misdemeanors ." Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law Online. The American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, 1 Mar. 2005. Web. 7 May 2012. .
Torry, Zachary D. and Billick, Stephen B. "Overlapping Universe: Understanding Legal Insanity And Psychosis." Psychiatric Quarterly 81.3 (2010): 253-262. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 8 May 2012.


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