What is Not Guilty by Grounds of Insanity?
One of the more notorious defenses mounted by some accused criminals is the insanity defense. Juries will find defendants not guilty because of insanity if they believe that the defendant is not responsible for his or her actions due to a psychiatric illness.
Societies allow the not guilty by insanity defense because it is a compromise between the law and society. Societies as a whole believe that criminals should be punished for their actions. At the same time, they also believe that individuals who are sick need to be given treatment for their sickness. As a compromise, individuals who are decided to be not guilty by grounds of insanity are sent to psychiatric facilities for the remainder of their lives. By pleading insanity, a defendant by default also pleads not guilty.
In order for a jury to find a defendant not guilty by grounds of insanity, the defense has to create a defense that follows the McNaughton Rule. The McNaughton Rule states that the jury must hear medical testimony provided by the prosecution and psychiatric and other medical experts provided by the defense. If the defense is able to prove that the defendant did not understand right from wrong due to a psychiatric illness or if the defendant did not understand from what he or she was doing due to a psychiatric illness, then the defendant stands a good chance of being declared not guilty by grounds of insanity.
One famous case that resulted in a verdict of not guilty by grounds of insanity was that of John Hinckley Jr’s. John Hinckley Jr. and his lawyers successfully used the insanity defense when Hinckley was standing trial for the attempted assassination for President Ronald Reagan because his lawyers successfully proved that Hinckley was acting under the will of an obsession. Because Hinckley was found not guilty by grounds of insanity, he was sentenced to live out the remainder of his life under the care of a psychiatric institution.
An example of a failed insanity defense is one put forth by Jeffery Dahmer and his attorneys. Dahmer was a serial killer who not only killed his victims but also raped, dismembered and even ate some of them. Dahmer stood trial for 16 murders. Even though the defense claimed Dahmer was suffering from borderline personality disorder was from his obsession with necrophilia, the jury ultimately decided that Dahmer was sane after being presented with more compelling evidence by the prosecution. Because the jury did not accept the not guilty by grounds of insanity defense, Dahmer was treated as a criminal and sentenced to 15 terms of life imprisonment.
By allowing individuals to claim they are not guilty by grounds of insanity, society allows criminals with mental illnesses to be treated instead of being punished. In order for individuals to successfully prove that they are indeed insane, the defense must provide overwhelming evidence that shows the defendant is truly insane.