The Insanity Defense

Is it protected under the Constitution?


The U.S. Supreme Court is looking anew at the insanity defense, a centuries-old legal doctrine, which holds that some mentally ill defendants do not know right from wrong and cannot be held responsible for their crimes. Supporters of the insanity defense say such individuals need psychiatric treatment, not imprisonment. But critics say the insanity defense is often a “get-out-of-jail” card that enables criminals to avoid punishment. The issue at stake in the Supreme Court case is whether a state that abolishes the insanity defense is violating the U.S. Constitution. A Kansas man facing the death penalty in a quadruple homicide says a state law abolishing the insanity defense unconstitutionally prevented him from arguing that his actions were the result of his mental illness. Many legal ...

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