The literature on the subject of the insanity defense spans ever since the controversy first became a topic to be discussed. The defense has been inscribed in the legal system for centuries; ever since the Greeks and the teachings of Plato. The current literature covers the spectrum from perception of both the offenders and the defense, to arguments both for and against abolition from our Twenty-First Century laws, as well as about the offenders and the victims.
The defense of Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI; now NCRMD or Not Criminally Responsible by Reason of Mental Disorder) has been around since the times of the Greeks, ever since Plato’s Law had been cited to say
If anyone is insane, let him not be seen openly in the city, but let the relative of such a person watch over him in the best manner they know of; and if they are negligent, let them pay a fine. (Wood, 2009, pg 145).
The reason that we have the case even though it is so controversial is because as a society, morally we cannot inflict punishment where there is no blame, and there is no blame if there is no responsibility and therefore it is considered to be a integral part of the integrity of our system of law (Hathaway, 2009), so that “out of fundamental fairness, only blameworthy are punished” (Kenneth & Torry, 2012, pg 223). The entire purpose of the defense is to remove the “stigma of moral blame” from those who we deem not responsible as a result of their mental illness (Hathaway, 2009, pg. 311).
The criteria that we assign to criminal culpability (responsibility) follows the doctrine or mens rea (the guilty mind) that has three premises: The offender must exercise free choice, reflecting free will, ...
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... begin viewing them as persons to be managed... [and the] project of investigation and treatment” (Acorn, 2011, pg 206). They are painted to us as individuals with whom we have no common moral understanding, a person of we get an ultimate understanding from the verdict of a court psychiatrist and doctors rather than what he himself understands of himself (Acorn, 2011).
Not very many studies have been done about the victims of the crimes that end on a verdict of criminal insanity, but the ones that have been done are consistent in their findings that “‘not guilty on the grounds of mental illness’ often means to the victim’s family that the offender is ‘getting away with it’”, and that because there is no record of the crime, that in fact, no one actually committed the crime at all (as cited in Chappell, 2010, pg. 39).
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