Academic journal article Journal of Law and Health

Insane: James Holmes, Clark V. Arizona, and America's Insanity Defense

Academic journal article Journal of Law and Health

Insane: James Holmes, Clark V. Arizona, and America's Insanity Defense

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION                                           34     I. BRIEF HISTORY OF THE INSANITY DEFENSE              35  A. Criminal Act Requirements                             35  B. The M'Naghten Test                                    36  C. Irresistible Impulse Test                             37  D. The Durham Product Test                               38  E. Model Penal Code Test                                 39  F. Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984                   41     II. ANALYSIS                                          43  A. Clark v. Arizona                                      44   B. Schiophrenia                                          47  C. Schizophrenia Causes                                  49  D. American Psychiatric Association on Legal Insanity    51     III. PROPOSING CHANGE                                 51 IV. WHY POTENTIAL CRITICISMS OF PROPOSED LEGISLATION ARE MISGUIDED                                                 52     V. CONCLUSION                                         53     VI. PROPOSED STATUTE                                  54 


In sentencing James Holmes, the shooter from the 2012 Aurora, Colorado massacre, (1) Judge Carlos A. Samour (2) stated, "James Holmes was an angry quitter who gave up on life and turned his hatred into murder and mayhem against innocent victims.It's almost impossible to comprehend how a human being is capable of such acts." (3) He sentenced Holmes to twelve consecutive life sentences equaling 3,318 years. (4)

"The severity and intensity of his psychosis was so high so severe, as to render him incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong." (5) A psychiatrist who treated James Holmes described him as an anti-social "odd-ball" who thought obsessively about killing people in the months before the shooting. (6) His psychiatrist testified that James Holmes had "homicidal thoughts" as often as three or four times a day in March 2012 and had an obsession with killing that was only getting worse. (7)

This begs the question how does there exist a deeply divided dichotomy to describe the mental state of one man? The explanation is rooted in the definition of insanity. Insanity is a legal term of art that changes definitions depending on the legal standard in American jurisprudence. (8) This explains why a man who mental health professionals described as having an uncontrollable obsession with killing people can be found not insane and guilty. Nevertheless, would James Holmes' fate be different had John Hinckley been found guilty for his attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan?

John Hinckley's attempted assassination on Ronald Reagan changed the course of the insanity plea. (9) John Hinckley successfully pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. (10) The public outcry was such that there was a legislative push for a new insanity standard in the United States. The Hinckley verdict shocked the world and consequently birthed The Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984. The public push for a stricter standard made the passing of the act uncontroversial. (11)

This article addresses the current state of the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984 and its widespread implementation at the state level. Part II of this Note supplies background information on the history of the insanity defense and how it has transformed over the years in American jurisprudence. Part III provides an analysis of the of the insanity defense. Part IV suggests a new standard of for the insanity defense with a more accommodating application to a wider degree of mental diseases.


A. Criminal Act Requirements

To understand the history of the insanity defense it is paramount to understand the two elements required for a criminal offense. Outside of inchoate offenses, a criminal act requires a finding of causation: the actus reus and mens rea. …

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