The Insanity Defense: The American Developments

The Insanity Defense: The American Developments

The Insanity Defense: The American Developments

The Insanity Defense: The American Developments


This collection reprints in facsimile the most influential scholarship published in this subject area. The thematically-organized volumes are available individually or as a set:
• Vol. 1: The History of Mental Illness in Criminal Cases: the English Tradition
350 pp• 0-8153-4062-1]
• Vol. 2: The Insanity Defense: American Developments
350 pp• 0-8153-4063-X]
• Vol. 3: Competency to be Tried, Imprisoned and Executed
350 pp• 0-8153-4064-8]


Mental illness has always had a substantial role in criminal cases as an excuse or mitigation of a criminal act or as a claim that a defendant is not competent to be tried, to waive rights, or to be executed. By far the most jurisprudentially thorny discussions have involved the insanity defense, which provides a legal excuse for an admitted criminal act. Diminished capacity, which does not generally provide a complete excuse for a criminal act but often mitigates the degree of guilt, has also caused consternation for courts and legal scholars.

During the twentieth century the U.S. Supreme Court developed a body of law governing the question of competence. Without much disagreement, the Court consistently determined that defendants who are not competent should not be tried or executed. The more contentious debates have concerned the appropriateness of forcibly medicating defendants to stand trial or to be executed. Both the judiciary and the citizenry have debated the appropriateness of putting mentally retarded defendants on trial and punishing them for their acts. Although the Supreme Court in 1989 decided that mentally retarded individuals were not categorically exempt from the death penalty, it revisited this issue in<>see Stephen J. Morse, Undiminished Confusion in Diminished Capacity, 75 J. Crim. L. 1 (1984); Joshua Dressler, Reaffirming the Moral Legitimacy of the Doctrine of Diminished Capacity: A Brief Reply to Professor Morse,75 J. Crim. L. 953 (1984); and Peter Arenella, The Diminished Capacity and Diminished Responsibility Defenses: Two Children of a Doomed Marriage, 77 Colum. L. Rev. 827, 828 (1977). For a more general overview, see 1 JANE CAMPBELL MORIARTY, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE IN CRIMINAL TRIALS, §3:16-3:23 (1996, 2000 supp.).

See Riggins v. Nevada, 504 U.S. 127 (1992) (holding that forcible medication of a defendant to render him competent to stand trial violated his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights unless the inmate posed a danger to himself or others and unless such treatment was medically necessary).

See Singleton v. State, 437 S.E.2d 53 (S.C. 1993) (holding it unconstitutional forcibly to medicate a defendant for the purpose of executing him); and Louisiana v. Perry, 610 So.2d 746 (La. 1992) (same).

Penry v. Lynaugh, 492 U.S. 302, 340 (1989) (holding “we cannot conclude today that the Eighth Amendment precludes the execution of any mentally retarded person of Penry’s ability convicted of a capital offense simply by virtue of his or her mental retardation alone”). Penry had an IQ of between 50 and 55 (mild to moderate retardation), a mental age of a six-and-a-half-year-old child, and the social maturity of a nine- or ten-year-old. The Penry case was remanded to the lower court on the issue of appropriate jury instructions

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