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When is an insanity defense appropriate?

The recent conviction of a Texas woman based on insanity points out when this defense may be appropriate.

When people in San Antonio have been charged with committing a crime, they have several options before them. One of these options is to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Over the years, the insanity defense has been the subject of discussion among those in the criminal justice and medical fields.

Frontline points out that for mental health professionals, the insanity plea does not mean that the person will get the help that he or she needs, since a large percent of the population of incarcerated people have some form of mental illness. The plea also lifts the responsibility of a judge or jury when it comes to deciding whether the person is guilty and this violates the very purpose of the criminal justice system. However, those who support the use of the plea say that it allows the system to acknowledge the existence of a mental illness and therefore, provide the care that the person needs while he or she is kept away from the general public.

Treatment instead of incarceration

A mother in Texas will receive treatment at a state hospital instead of incarceration after she used the insanity plea in the deaths of her two young children. Dallas News reported that the mother suffered from schizophrenia, which had gone undiagnosed or treated. As a result, the mother tried to give her children bathroom cleaner and then strangled them when they would not drink it.

The mother believed that she was helping her children, who were both special needs. She expressed no feelings over the deaths of her children and stated that she wanted them to be normal. The special prosecutor in the case admitted that the woman was insane when she killed her children even though she had previously searched for ways to kill them on the Internet during preceding weeks. The woman is the sixth mother in Texas to have successfully pled not guilty by reason of insanity in the past 15 years.

Mental illness, not diminished capacity

It is sometimes easy for people to confuse the insanity defense with diminished capacity, according to Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute. The insanity defense requires proving that the person did not know right from wrong at the time the act was committed, and that this was a result of the person’s severe mental illness. For example, a woman suffering from hallucinations kills another person, believing that the person is evil after hearing voices telling her this. The existence of the mental illness and her own words could be used to show that she did not understand what she was really doing when she committed the act.

For people with diminished capacity, they may have contributing factors such as an addiction, a learning disability or they were under the control of another person. However, they still understood that what they were doing was wrong, despite the fact that they may have been acting on an impulse. People in San Antonio who have questions concerning their defense options may find it helpful to meet with a knowledgeable attorney.