Friday, July 6, 2012

Insanity in Law

This article is written by Shashank Sahay.

The definitions of legal insanity differ from state to state, generally a person is considered insane and is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of the offense, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, he was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. This basic reason for allowing the 'Insanity Plea' as a defense is because willful intent is an essential part of most offenses; a person who is insane is not capable of forming such intent. Mental disease or defect does not alone constitute a legal insanity defense. The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.  (Image taken from here.)

Mental condition rendering trial impractical
If the home secretary is satisfied by the reports from at least two medical practitioners that person is suffering from mental disorder, he may order that person to be detained in hospital in public interest. (this power is exercised by The Home Secretary only) or  If
the alleged insane person is not able to pass the following six stages :-
¢  To understand the charges
¢  To understand the plea
¢  To challenge jurors (member of jury)
¢  To instruct council and his solicitor
¢  To understand the course of trial
¢  To give evidences if he chooses.
¢   : Mackay, mental condition defense in RD MacKay and G Kearns

It can only be proved by the court that a person is insane and henceforth unfit for trial if there is written or oral evidence to that effect by two or more registered medical practitioners at least one of whom is approved by the Home Secretary as having special experience in the field of mental disorder[1].
(Note- the onus of proof lies on the person who or who’s jury claims him to be LEGALLY insane).

Pleas of insanity raised at trial
The defendant can raise that given the fact he is SANE under legal terminology, during the time of incident for which he had been brought to the court, he was INSANE or during the proceeding, the person can claim to be INSANE, hence causing a delay or termination of the hearing of the court.

Differences between medical and legal insanity
¢  Medical insanity doesn't mean the person is crazy. They are probably on medical treatment and in the care of a psychiatrist and therapist but can do for themselves and lead a somewhat normal life.
¢   Legal insanity is when the person has to be supervised and has no control over finances or any decisions as ordered by a court judge. Someone takes responsibility for this person, as they cannot function on their own. It usually takes 3 psychiatrists to declare the person legally insane and it is ordered by the judge in a court of law that they cannot function in society.
  It can be said that Medical insanity will get you a prescription. Whereas Legal insanity will keep you out of prison.

The test of insanity
According to M’ Naughten Rules there are two lines of defence opened to an accused person:
  1.          He did not know the nature and quality of his act because of the disease of the mind.
  2.      Even if he did know the nature and quality of his act, because of a disease in his mind,he did not know it was “wrong”. (Irrestible impulse cannot be used as a shield in proving a person to be INSANE.) (Image taken from here.)


Ritchie J. of the Supreme Court of Canada stated:
Automatism is a term used to describe unconscious involuntary behavior. It means an unconscious, involuntary act, where the mind does not go with what is being done for. It is closely intertwined with defense of insanity .The  defense of insanity can be used where a defendant, who at the time of the offence, was suffering from a mental condition which would excuse him from criminal responsibility (i.e. acquit him). Therefore, from the above definitions one can clearly see and conclude that automatism differs from insanity.  Furthermore, it is for the prosecution to disprove the defense, not for the accused to prove automatism. An Acquittal on the ground of automatism is a complete acquittal, whereas an acquittal on the grounds of insanity leads to a hospital order.

Insanity plea accepted for Beach man who killed mother
Carolyn Goldman Osman was trying to help her son, Michael, on the last morning of her life. The 73-year-old woman, a former registered nurse, was going to drive her son to traffic court on Dec. 7.But Michael Osman had stopped taking his medication for paranoid schizophrenia, according to a court document. He had delusions that everyone - including his mother - was out to kill him. That morning Osman, 43, strangled his mother and banged her head against the ground until she died, according to a court document.

Public defender Annette Miller said Osman had been fighting mental illness for at least 23 years. But he also had a history of hospitalizations and domestic assault charges against family members that were dropped over the years, Powers said. In 2005, a farmer found him in a field in upstate New York. He also showed up at Quantico in 2008, seeking FBI protection. Osman also had a history of appearing in his front yard, holding a gun with the safety off, Powers said. Padrick said Osman had shown a pattern of problems when he stopped taking his medication.  "Certainly the law should have intervened a long time before you killed your mother," Padrick told Osman[2].

The judge considered the claims put forward by the public prosecutor to be valid and Michael Jeffrey Osman managed to thwart off from the punishment of the crime he was accused of and thereby Osman was sent to a psychiatric centre instead of any jail.

Recently,More than 80 youths attending a political gathering were reported to have been shot dead when a terrorist disguised as a policeman opened fire on a holiday island on a lake near the Norwegian capital. The man arrested in connection with the Utoya island shooting was named last night as Anders Behring Breivik, 32, a Norwegian national. He described himself on his Facebook page as a conservative Christian and was reported to have links to the far-Right

Now, there are few Question that arise:-

Whether the accused can take help of legal or even medical insanity from escaping prosecution?
Who can qualify for the insanity plea?

If yes, then what are the claims that he can use to prove himself guilty?

Can a serial killer be termed as legally  insane and escape prosecution?

Should the current laws on INSANITY be made more stringent to plug in the existing LOOP HOLES?

  The term Insanity in Legal terminology has been quite widely been used as a defense by the Defendants and in many occasions the guilty has managed to escape the conviction. It is high time that the Judiciary of not only India but around the worls take a tough stance on it and plug in the loop holes  that help the Guilty escape conviction.

This article is written by 
Shashank Sahay

 Shashank Sahay is pursuing BA.LLB from School of Law, Kiit University, Bhubaneswar and is currently in 2nd Semester. So far he has managed to write research paper and articles on issues ranging from homosexuality, AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Millitary Act), JIHAD to status of marital rape in India. Apart from writing research papers, his interests include MUNning (model united nations) and playing Football.

Ø  SMITH And HOGAN Criminal Law 12th Edition,Pg no. 269-270
Ø   SMITH And HOGAN Criminal Law 12th Edition,Pg no. 270-272
Ø  SMITH And HOGAN Criminal Law 12th Edition,Pg no. 274
Ø  SMITH And HOGAN Criminal Law 12th Edition,Pg no.276-278)                                                                                      
Ø  SMITH And HOGAN Criminal Law 12th Edition,Pg no.280-282


Keywords: procedure for insanity plea in India, Carolyn Osman, Differences between medical legal insanity, legal insanity plea, legally insane, Michael Osman, Naughten Rules, Shashank Sahay kiit university

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