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It's a point of law.

  1. Apr 5, 2004 #1


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    A Texas mother who tried to kill both of her young sons, one of whom in fact did die, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. There is some speculation that the alleged Ohio sniper's defense team will try to go that route. If I understand, there is a sense in which, in the punishment part of the trial, the judge goes "easier" on a defendant who is guilty by insanity rather than simply guilty.

    Does anybody know what the history behind this is? Have there been times or places where the punishment would be harsher for a criminally insane person, rather than easier? Is there much support in modern times for going the latter route? For instance, can a case be made that we should lock a sane murderer up for the remainder of his or her life, but we ought to put to death an insane murderer?

    Second question: When a defendant is found guilty, I am pretty sure that the defense attorney will sometimes make the case, during the punishment phase, that his client would not have done the act if he hadn't been drunk on liquor or high on some illegal narcotic. Is it ethically sensible for a judge to go easier on a guy because, in addition to doing whatever other crime he was found guilty of, he was also doing something unlawful at the same time in the way of being publicly intoxicated?
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  3. Apr 6, 2004 #2


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    here is the flaw in american law...find an excuse, and you won't get punished so severely...it teaches american society to not be responsible for their actions, and this is why crime continues. i believe the insanity arguement should be saved for those who are truly insane, not just being emotional for a few moments. the texas woman claiming that god told her to kill her children has emotional issues and should be in a prison with other criminals to get a dose of what reality is...i guarantee you those other female inmates wouldn't be so nice to her, as there is a "class system" in prisons (from what i have heard) and killing children certainly doesn't put you at the top...
  4. Apr 8, 2004 #3
    Suppose that you are a parent, how can you consider somebody who is killing her own children not being insane. Shouldn"t the single most first natural need for an individual be, protecting its offspring? If that urge is not present, would you consider such an individual as normal?

    In the Netherlands, insanity is a valid reason for an alternative mandatory treatment in an institution. Before this person is sent back to the society all effort is done to ensure that he/she is not a danger to others. Consequently the treatment may take longer than the sentence could have been.
  5. Apr 8, 2004 #4


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    The woman in question pled guilty to lesser charges in a plea agreement. SHe was not found "not-guilty by reason of insanity."

    The insanity defense only works in an exculpatory manner when an individual is incapable of distinguishing that their actions are wrong, or when an individual is not capable of controlling their actions. It is not the free ride people think. Commitments to state and federal institutions are generally for longer durations than the prison sentences a defendent would receive.

    There are provisions for "guilty but insane" in some states. The judgement indicates that the person's mental illness contributed to their criminality, but did not excuse it. Such findings will sometimes allow for lighter sentencing, if the mental illness can be treated. However, these findings can also lead to longer restrictions if the illness can not be adequately treated.

    There are provisions in law for extenuating circumstances. If someone under the influence of drugs commits a crime, it is reasonable to believe that curing their drug addiction may make them a productive member of society. Someone who commits a crime without any extenuating circumstances is less likely to be rehabilitated. It is sensible policy.

  6. Apr 8, 2004 #5


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    I have no statistics at my fingertips, so maybe I am just spitting into the wind when I say this, but it seems to me like someone with an addictive personality is likely to go right back to their substance abuse as soon as they are freed, and might thus be quite likely to repeat their crime.
  7. Apr 9, 2004 #6


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    What you say is true, for the most part. Addicts have a very hard time recovering, but there is some chance. But, those who have no mitigating factors are probably sociopaths who will never be rehabilitated.

    Addicts can recover. Those with no marketable skill can be trained. Those who are just immature can grow. But those who have no aparent reason for their crimes are almost certain to repeat them.

  8. Apr 10, 2004 #7
    Actually, not guilty by reason of insanity is the harshest verdict one can get. If somebody's guilty, they do their time (assuming it's not life), and then they're free. They can get probation, they get plenty of appeals, etc.

    If you're not guilty by reason of insanity your life is over. You're always considered insane and the courts control you for the rest of your life.

    In this case, the woman was rather clearly insane, and I agree with the verdict. She'll also be spending the rest of her life in a mental institution.
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