History Of The Insanity Defense: Reformation Or Abolishment
The methods that some states have chosen to implement into their legal system to determine what extent insanity should be classified as a legal excuse the M’Naghten insanity defense, Irresistible Impulse Insanity Defense, the Substantial Capacity Test, and the Durham Insanity Defense. Charles Patrick Ewing’s book, Insanity: Murder, Madness, and the Law defines the Insanity plea and who it is available to and affirms which states utilize the various tests. He attests that,
'Seventeen States and the Federal Government have adopted a recognizable version of the M'Naghten test with both its cognitive incapacity and moral incapacity components. One State has adopted only M'Naghten's cognitive incapacity test, and 10 [States] have adopted the moral incapacity test alone. Fourteen jurisdictions, inspired by the Model Penal Code, have in place an amalgam of the volition incapacity test and some variant of the moral incapacity test. . . Three States combine a full M'Naghten test with a volition incapacity formula. And New Hampshire alone stands by the product-of-mental-illness test' (Ewing 2008).
Because of the lack of unity in testing method among the states, the insanity defense is misunderstood by many, which is why something needs to be done in an effort to reform the system. While reforming, the government should come to a mutual agreement that what these defendants greatly need is treatment before they can receive punishment or have them coincide with each other. There is a common necessity for a system in which all of the states that accept the defense and implement it into their laws while mandating a certain type of treatment to help improve or supervise the mentally ill’s psychological conditions. Before they can get the treatment, or punishment that they need, a lack of sanity must be proven, using one of the testing methods. These tests that are constantly being reformed, as they should be, help ensure that the Insanity defense remains standing and available to those that truly need it.
In 1843 Britain, Daniel M'Naughten murdered the secretary of the Prime Minister, intending to kill the Prime Minister himself. He believed that there was a conspiracy against him involving the government. The high court declared him to be insane which resulted in M’Naughten’s initial hospitalization where he was later placed in a mental institution for the rest of his life. His case acted as inspiration for the creation of what came to be known as the M'Naghten test. NOLO Criminal Defense Lawyer’s article states that “An offender is insane under this test if mental illness prevents the offender from knowing the difference between right and wrong” ('Pleading Insanity in a Criminal Case', n. d. ). Other states began to reform the M'Naghten Test with a modified version known as the Brawner Test. Under this test, defendants can be found insane if they lack the substantial capacity to understand the criminality of their actions or are unable to conform their behavior to legal requirements due to a mental disease. A defendant is deemed insane if they are incapable of knowing what they were doing at the time their crime was being committed. While they may not have understood what they were doing, critics believe that they should still bear the blame of the crime, which is why it does not absolve anyone from blame if they are aware their conduct is wrong. Another prominent criticism of the M'Naghten test is its exclusive analysis of cognitive incapacity. This means an individual is unable to gain knowledge and deeply understand it through their thoughts, experiences, and the senses. Many have deduced that this test is not well suited for treating various forms of psychological disorders, particularly those involving an inability to act according to one's will. The M'Naghten test has almost always been associated with illnesses such as schizophrenia and psychotic disorders. The test is used to determine if the defendant knew that their actions were wrong. Even if the defendant is aware of what they were doing, he or she can still be deemed insane if they are unable to recognize the wrongfulness of their actions.