The Insanity Defense: Andrea Yates's Insanity Defense

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Andrea Yates being escorted into a police station after the drowning of her five children. © Mike Stewart/Sygma/Corbis In 2001, Andrea Yates drowned her five young children in the bathtub of her Houston home while experiencing severe postpartum depression. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Pleading insanity didn't help Jack Ruby, the man who killed President Kennedy's assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, though -- the jury found him guilty of murder and convicted him. Who's to judge another person's sanity? In the end, it all comes down to how convincing their argument is. When you use the insanity defense, you're pleading that you are not guilty by reason of insanity or guilty by reason of insanity, or some variation along those lines, depending on the state in which you're charged. If you can prove you were legally insane at the time you committed the crime for which you're on trial, you can expect to be sentenced to psychiatric treatment rather than convicted and imprisoned. We have an insanity defense to help protect people with mental illness. As you'll see, though, convincing a jury of your insanity is tricky, and only about 1 percent of cases that use the insanity defense are successful (and of that successful 1 percent, only about 15 to 25 percent of those cases are acquittals) [source: Lilienfeld]. Societies have been using some form of the insanity defense throughout history, and we're going to begin our list with Richard Lawrence, the man who tried to assassinate President Andrew Jackson. This illustration shows Lawrence’s attempt on President Andrew Jackson’s life on Jan. 30, 1835. © CORBIS Richard Lawrence, a house painter in his mid-30s, was the first man to be charged for the assassination attempt on an ... ... middle of paper ... ...ed into outpatient care just a few weeks before the attack [source: Magnus, PBS]. Goldstein's been on trial three times for the murder of Webdale. He pleaded insanity in his first trial, which ended with a hung jury, and again during his second trial in 2000, where the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. After the highest court threw out his second case due to unsubstantiated testimony, Goldstein went to trial for the third time in 2005 -- this time he pled guilty to first degree manslaughter, and was sentenced to 23 years in prison plus 5 years of probation. Goldstein's case inspired Kendra's law, New York state legislation that allows courts to order involuntary outpatient treatment for anyone with severe mental illness and a mental illness and treatment history suggesting he or she may not be able to live safely within the community without supervision.

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