The idea of not guilty by reason of insanity has been in play in America’s legal justice system since the discovery of the many mental disorders. Not guilty by reason of insanity is determined by the capacity of the perpetrator at the time of the crime. It is in place because of society’s balance between believing “…that criminals should be punished for their crimes…,” but also believing that “…people who are ill should receive treatment for their illness.” (Cornell Legal Information Institute). There has been a line between the mentally ill and the criminally evil for ages, but nobody has ever seemed to easily decipher who lies above that line and who lies below that line. This defense sets in motion the help that victims of mental illness need to ensure that they are no longer a threat to themselves or society. When found not guilty by reason of insanity, those who are compelled by their illness to commit these crimes are sent to a psychiatric facility instead of sent to a maximum security prison where they would receive absolutely no help. Many perpetrators involved in crimes of passion attempt to use this defense by stating that they were mentally ill, even though their judgement was simply just clouded by anger, and it does not create an excuse for the heinous crime they have committed. Although, in some cases the perpetrator is actually suffering from a mental illness, and require the help that is needed in order to help with the illness and decrease the chance of that person hurting someone else ever again.
In the case of Andrea Yates, she was found guilty for the murder of her five children, until the verdict was eventually overturned in 2005. She was then found guilty by reason of insanity due to her multiple mental illnesses that she had been suffering from throughout the time of the crime, and throughout the trial. Yates was suffering from postpartum depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and bulimia, which was the cause of her “…pathological guilt regarding herself and her performance as a mother.” (Diamond, 2008). These mental illnesses took over Yates’ life and eventually led her murder her five children. The thoughts of the devil in her head were telling her that the only way to save them was to kill them. With the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity, Yates was sent to a psychiatric hospital where she continues to receive the help necessary to decrease her symptoms instead of being sent to a lifetime in prison.
Not guilty by reason of insanity is used by thousands of lawyers all around the country. The time old question remains, is this a reasonable and logical defense to use for perpetrators who are, in fact, mentally ill? The defense, when coming to a verdict, allows those who truly need help get the proper treatment needed. Without this defense prisons would be flooded with hundreds of criminals who are mentally ill and maybe cannot ask for the help required for them. Criminals with the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity are set to the standard of the “McNaughton Rule” which applies the accusation that the perpetrator “…does not know right from wrong.” (Cornell Legal Information Institute). The criminals who are involved in crimes of passion know the difference between right and wrong, but are so overcome with their emotion that it leads them to commit a crime such as homicide, kidnapping, robbery, or whatever the case may be. These perpetrators are the ones who should not be found guilty by reason of insanity because there is no actually illness present that cannot be stopped. Prisons should be filled with those who choose to commit their legal acts rather than those who are controlled completely by the mental illnesses that seem to define them. Many defendants who have a history of mental illness cannot control, are not aware of, or are too compelled by their mental illness to do anything about it. Not guilty by reason of insanity is a way for the mentally ill to be set apart from the criminally evil, and receive the help they need while paying for the crime they have committed.
Cornell Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/background/insane/insanity.html
Diamond, S.A., (2008, May 2). Sympathy for the Devil. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/evil-deeds/200805/sympathy-the-devil