, Research Paper
What constitutes insanity? Currently, legal experts are pondering over this question. More specifically though, many are questioning the issue of the insanity defense, its credibility, and whether or not it should be abolished. When one speaks of the insanity defense, the M Naughten rule comes to mind. The M Naughten rule is a required test that a jury must find that the defendant did not know the nature of the act that he or she could not tell right from wrong (Katsh, 1998). Those who believe in the M Naughten rule, such as Richard Bonnie, are in favor of the insanity defense. Contrary to the M Naughten rule, some believe that there are individuals who can distinguish between good and evil but still cannot control their behavior. Bonnie believes that the abolition of the insanity defense is immoral and leaves no alternative for those who are unaware and responsible for their actions. On the other hand, Jonathan Rowe feels that the insanity defense should be abolished. Rowe believes that it is used by white middle- or upper class defendants and basically it leads to unfair results (Katsh, 1998).
Tremendous amounts of controversy and criticism surround the issue of the insanity defense. Jonathan Rowe examines its credibility and makes several valid points as to why the insanity defense should be abolished. First and foremost, Rowe believes that the only solution to questions surrounding the insanity defense is the complete abolition of its existence. Rowe first addresses the idea of so-called forensic psychiatrists . These psychiatrists, according to Rowe, show up in trial and attempt to display their specialty skills in the mental health field (Katsh, 1998). In other words, Rowe does not believe in a psychiatrist s ability to assess an individual s state of mind at the time a crime was committed. This is the only portion of Rowe s argument that I do not agree with. Being a psychology major and hoping to enter the forensic field, I believe that a psychiatrist does have the ability to assess a criminal situation. The examination of an alleged criminal may take some time, but it is possible. In conjunction with the psychiatrist train of thought, Rowe believes that there is an increasing number of criminals which are fooling the psychiatrists (Katsh, 1998). I completely agree. Having full access to anything via the Internet, criminals and any individuals, for that matter, are able to arm themselves with unwarranted amounts of knowledge. The acquisition of this knowledge enables criminals to trick doctors into believing things that are not true.
Rowe continues to provide an argument for why the insanity defense should be eliminated pointing towards the relationship shared between psychiatrists and defendants. The biggest problem is that many psychiatrists cannot relate to poor people (Katsh, 1998). Not only are psychiatrists unable to relate to poor people, but neither is the insanity defense. Rowe uses a good example to illustrate this point. He states that someone from a nice upper-class background who commits a horrible crime is thought to be crazy as compared to someone from a poor, lower class background (Katsh, 1998). To me, Rowe makes a lot of sense in this aspect. Most upper-class individuals, who are recognized in the community, that commit a crime are thought of as crazy or even having a bad day. This is not the case for, let s say, an individual from the projects of a community.
Aside from the talk of psychiatrists and whom they relate better to, opponents of the insanity defense point to the basic aspect of clear facts. An individual either did it or did not (Katsh, 1998). Instead of using the insanity defense to receive a lenient punishment, many believe that the criminals should be tried first, then receive treatment for a mental health problem. In my opinion, I feel that this could be the final solution to this issue. Not only will justice be served, but also the criminal will receive help for his/her problem. One last argument made by Rowe can be put in one sentence. All criminals have mental problems (Katsh, 1998). This is absolutely correct. Anyone who harms another in some way does have a mental problem, but it does not excuse the act. So, I guess my question is; does this mean that the insanity defense can be applied to all criminals? I do not think so.
On the other side of this issue stands Richard Bonnie. Bonnie believes that the abolition of the insanity defense is immoral and leaves no alternative for those who do not know what they do. Generally speaking, proponents of the insanity defense feel that it should remain because those that are severely mentally challenged should not be held accountable for criminal actions (Katsh, 1998). Just to state my position on this issue, I feel the insanity defense should remain, but used only in desperate situations. In this case, I feel that all criminals should be punished. If it so happens that the criminal is mentally slow, then they should receive treatment after or during their punishment.
Bonnie proposes three options in recognition of maintaining the insanity defense. The first involves just leaving the law as it is now. The second option is to revive the M Naughten rule. In other words, this approach entails a refining of the insanity defense. Finally, the third option is to completely abolish the insanity defense. Bonnie tends to favor the revival of the M Naughten rule approach. Bonnie believes that efforts should be focused on improving the insanity defense rather than eliminating it. I do agree with Bonnie on this aspect. Instead of hastily eliminating the insanity defense, we should attempt to refine and improve it. Bonnie also makes a valid point when he describes the aspect of training. Bonnie feels that specialized training is necessary for a forensic evaluation to take place in the matter of a criminal trial. Instead of having a general psychiatrist examine a criminal, a specialized forensic psychiatrist should be given the job. Like I said, Bonnie makes a good point in this aspect.
In conclusion, I have found that Rowe and Bonnie have established valid arguments, which supports each of their claims. I tend to agree more with what Rowe was saying, although Bonnie proved her point. The only problem I had with Bonnie s arguments was that he seemed to only make a case as to how the insanity defense could be strengthened and improved. He did not address exactly why the insanity defense should not be abolished.