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Insanity defense : - Essay Example

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The insanity defense has been a relatively recent phenomena in court cases having first appeared in 1843 at the trial of Daniel M’Nagten, a woodworker Scotsman who killed the secretary to the British Prime Minister in a mistaken attempt to kill the man he believed was…
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The insanity defense has been a relatively recent phenomena in court cases having first appeared in 1843 at the trial of Daniel M’Nagten, a woodworker Scotsman who killed the secretary to the British Prime Minister in a mistaken attempt to kill the man he believed was targeting him (Martin, 1998). As a result of this trial, judges determined the insanity defense might be invoked if the defendant was operating “under such defect of reason from disease of the mind” as to not realize that what they were doing was a crime (Martin, 1998). It is this right versus wrong idea that has formed the basis of most of the American laws regarding this defense argument. Yet, the insanity defense has come under attack numerous times since its inception because of its very malleable nature – some who are obviously insane, such as Charles Guiteau who shot President Garfield in 1881, are found incontrovertibly guilty while others, such as John Hinkley who shot President Reagan in 1981, are found not guilty by reason of insanity. “There is a very strong perception in America that defendants are abusing this defense to escape murder charges in the nation’s courts” (Gado, 2005). In terms of the defense actually being used, reports indicate that the insanity defense is “difficult to plead, seldom used and almost never successful” (Gado, 2005). Despite this, I do believe there are some instances in which the insanity defense is plausible and appropriate, such as in the case of Daniel Zwack.
In the case of Daniel Zwack, the defendant was convinced at the time of his crimes that he was being targeted by the CIA, the Masons and numerous other shadowy figures, forcing him to stock his vehicle up with weaponry and head back home to Minnesota in violation of his parole. What makes this case distinctive is that when his family started noticing strange behavior in their son – spraying mace in his mother’s face for refusing to hand over a negative letter regarding him, for instance – they tried to have him committed in an effort to obtain for him the medical attention they felt he obviously needed. However, the courts, deciding he wasn’t dangerous enough, refused to confine him to the hospital. It wasn’t until he was involved with a shootout with Texas police (and one federal officer, for whom he was given an additional 17 years) that Zwack was finally determined dangerous. His mother, though horrified, said she also felt some relief, believing her son would finally be found insane and be given the medical treatment he needed (Biewen, 2006). Instead, he received 62 years in maximum security prison. However, while there, he has received some medical attention that has demonstrated that insanity was a plausible reason for his rampage. While in prison, Zwack has been taking Risperdol, which has worked to stop hallucinations and reduce the voices Zwack claims to hear. He even reported receiving a phone call in his cell once to remind him to take his medicine. He, of course, does not have a phone in his cell.
When a person is demonstrably ill in his thinking, as in the case of Daniel Zwack, to such an extent that family and friends have worked to have this person committed at some time in the past, the insanity defense should be able to be used. In this particular case, the individual suffering the mental disease was not even aware of his wrong-thinking until after he was placed on medication and the medication had a chance to begin functioning. When he has been too long off of the medication, he now reports instances in which he is still thinking in strange ways. Other cases, in which the individual knows they are not thinking correctly, but are unable to obtain help for one reason or another, could just as easily be considered crimes committed while insane. While there is room for abuse in such cases, I believe if one is sick, mentally or otherwise, there should be methods in place for them to obtain the help they need before the crimes occur, and, in the absence of such, it is unethical for the rest of us to hold them responsible for what they do in the twisted reasoning of an injured mind.
Beiwen, John. (2006). “Not Sick Enough: The Insanity Defense.” American Public Media. Retrieved February 3 2006 from .
Gado, Mark. (2005). “You Must Die!” Court TV Crime Library. Retrieved February 3 2006 from .
Martin, John. (February 27 1998). “The Insanity Defense: A Closer Look.” Washington Post. Retrieved February 3 2006 from . Read More
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