Jewish World Review Nov. 20, 2003 / 25 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764
Why it's time to throw out the insanity defense, as we know it
The man who shot President Reagan in 1981,
John Hinckley, is in a courtroom fighting for more unsupervised visits with his
family. Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity, and now many
doctors believe he's "cured".
Now, while Hinckley was likely legally
insane when he shot the president and may very well be a lot better now, I'm
uncomfortable relying on a subjective interpretation by doctors, allowing a
battle of the medical experts to fully resolve whether and when someone
should be free.
We need to create a more definitive, predictable system when it comes to
insanity. The victim's families should not have to constantly wonder, will the
person who shot my loved one get out, and if so, when? But that also doesn't
mean we have to ignore mental illness.
Here's my suggestion, a system akin to
the 13 states that allow jurors to find someone guilty, but mentally ill. In those
cases the defendant is generally sentenced as he or she would have been, but
the judge also can take into account the treatment needed.
After the person is "cured" he or she still must serve the remainder
of his time. But those states still have an insanity defense as well.
health advocates complain that guilty, but mentally ill, effectively treats the
mentally ill like any other harden criminals when it comes to the sentence, and
that's a fair point. So why not let the judge take the mental state into account
in sentencing, even reduce the sentence, if appropriate. But at least impose a
minimum, a minimum time that could be served in a high security mental
hospital, if need be, but at least a sentence.
And if the judge believes the person is "cured" then he or she
could be released, but only after that minimum sentence is served. Victims'
families deserve more than being told we have no idea how long the criminal
will remain in a mental hospital. That totally depends on his progress.
criminal justice system is based on intent, and someone who's totally insane
may not have "the intent to kill."
But you know what? Intent is a pretty
squishy word. In the law people get executed all the time for decisions that
took just seconds to make, and the term insanity is just as difficult to define.
It's time to provide some structure to the system and some closure to the
victims by saying good-bye to an insanity defense that can leave a criminal
sentence entirely in the hands of the criminal.
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