- Published: November 24, 2012
When John W. Hinckley Jr. was acquitted from charges of murdering President Reagan in 1981, he created a wild public backlash against the insanity defense. The notion that someone so mentally-ill that he is incapable of understanding his action should not be responsible for those actions has been a long standing principle in the justice system. However, after Hinckley’s trial, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, and Utah prohibited the defendant from evoking the insanity defense.
Since that time, there had been repeated attempts by defense lawyers and advocate groups to make these states revoke their rules. Despite efforts to get the court to rule that the insanity defense is part of the defendant’s constitutional rights, judges had either found that “neither the constitutional guarantee of due process nor the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment gives a defendant the right to an insanity defense” or had refused to respond to petitions to use the insanity defense and hope that “justices will continue to defer to the state’s supreme court”
The notion of fairness is the fundamental essence of the justice system. Actions have consequences and individuals have to take responsibility for their own actions. However, whether the retributivism approach, where criminals are punished for their conscious actions and to deter other criminals, or the forward looking approach, where punishments serve to lower crime rates and better society, is used to look at this insanity defense issue, the optimal solution will be to allow it in court. For a mentally-ill offender who lives in his own alternative reality, punishment will not change his mind or deter him from future offenses, and neither will it give him the clear mental state to make decisions the way society expect him to.
At the same time, acquittal on ground of insanity does not mean a free pass from the justice system. Instead, offenders are committed to secured mental institutions for treatment. In other words, they are sentenced to another form of jail, one with physicians, pills, padded rooms, and orderlies rather than prison guards. Thus, using the insanity defense in cases with mentally ill individuals will give the public a satisfying ending and the offender a suitable treatment, as well as keeping the offender from society.
. 22 2012: n. page. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-is-asked-to-find-that-insanity-defense-is-a-constitutional-right/2012/07/22/gJQAKNbr2W_story.html>.
. 29 1994: A03. Web. 24 Nov. 2012. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/aron/scotus032994.htm>.