Insanity Defense: Past, Present, and Future

By Math, Suresh; Kumar, Channaveerachari et al. | Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, October-December 2015 | Go to article overview

Insanity Defense: Past, Present, and Future


Math, Suresh, Kumar, Channaveerachari, Moirangthem, Sydney, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine


Byline: Suresh. Math, Channaveerachari. Kumar, Sydney. Moirangthem

Insanity defense is primarily used in criminal prosecutions. It is based on the assumption that at the time of the crime, the defendant was not suffering from severe mental illness and therefore, was incapable of appreciating the nature of the crime and differentiating right from wrong behavior, hence making them not legally accountable for crime. Insanity defense is a legal concept, not a clinical one (medical one). This means that just suffering from a mental disorder is not sufficient to prove insanity. The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by a "preponderance of the evidence" which is similar to a civil case. It is hard to determine legal insanity, and even harder to successfully defend it in court. This article focuses on the recent Supreme Court decision on insanity defense and standards employed in Indian court. Researchers present a model for evaluating a defendant's mental status examination and briefly discuss the legal standards and procedures for the assessment of insanity defense evaluations. There is an urgent need to initiate formal graduation course, setup Forensic Psychiatric Training and Clinical Services Providing Centers across the country to increase the manpower resources and to provide fair and speedy trail.

INTRODUCTION

The concept of responsibility connects with our most fundamental convictions about human nature and dignity and everyday experience of guilt and innocence and blame and punishment. [sup][1] Punishing a person, who is not responsible for the crime, is a violation of the basic human rights and fundamental rights under the Constitution of India. It also brings the due process of law, if that person is not in a position to defend himself in the court of law, evoking the principle of natural justice. [sup][2] The affirmative defense of legal insanity applies to this fundamental principle by excusing those mentally disordered offenders whose disorder deprived them of rational understanding of their conduct at the time of the crime. [sup][1] Hence, it is generally admitted that incapacity to commit crimes exempts the individual from punishment. This is recognized by the legislation of most of the civilized nations. [sup][1],[3] Even in India, Section 84 of Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the "act of a person of unsound mind" and discusses insanity defense. [sup][4] However, in the recent past some of the U.S. states (such as Montana, Idaho, Kansas, and Utah) have banned insanity defense. [sup][3] This issue has raised a serious debate among medical, psychology and law professionals across the world. [sup][1]

Very little research has been done on this topic in India, however, there are few studies on exploring the clinical picture of the patients in prison. A landmark study in the forensic psychiatry of Indian setting occurred in 2011, in which 5024 prisoners were assessed on semi-structured interview schedule reported that 4002 (79.6%) individuals could be diagnosed as having a diagnosis of either mental illness or substance use. After excluding substance abuse, 1389 (27.6%) prisoners still had a diagnosable mental disorder. [sup][5] Another study from India portray a very gloomy picture of patients in forensic psychiatry settings and advocate for there is a need to streamline the procedure of referral, diagnosis, treatment, and certification. [sup][6] To address this issue of streamlining the process of evaluation of insanity defense and certification, this article focuses on semi-structured assessment in the Indian context based on landmark Supreme Court decisions. In addition, it will also present a model for evaluating a defendant's mental status examination and briefly discuss the legal standards and procedures for the assessment of insanity defense evaluations.

Disclaimer

Terms such as "insanity" and "unsoundness of mind" are legal concepts and are used frequently in the court of law. …

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