April 20, 2006

Crazy Thinking

I know that I usually keep things fairly light-hearted around here, but there's a serious issue that's been picking at my brain - insanity pleas.

Annie over at onethingIhateabouttoday got my wheels turning about the topic - you know, someone goes out and commits a heinous crime and then say "Oh, it's not my fault because I'm insane!"? Well, my opinion may prove to be a bit unpopular, but this is my blog so here you have it:


According to a legal encyclopedia: "Insanity Defense - A defense asserted by an accused in a criminal prosecution to avoid liability for the commission of a crime because, at the time of the crime, the person did not appreciate the nature or quality or wrongfulness of the acts." Hmmmm...appreciate? Anyway, there's much more interesting information from a legal standpoint over here.

The insanity defense reflects the generally accepted notion that persons who cannot understand the consequences of their actions should not be punished for criminal acts. My question is this: is this notion really generally accepted?

Now, I have had more than my fair share of experience with mental illness (some my own personal experience and some from people close to me). I know of the struggles they face and the impulses they fight - I've fought them myself, so I want to make it clear that I am in no way lacking compassion or empathy for the mentally ill. I guess what trips me up here is the fact that the crimes I have in mind are things such as killing a little neighbor girl with the intent of eating her, cutting off your baby's arms because she won't stop touching things, or systematically drowning all five of your own children. In my opinion, you'd HAVE to be insane to do things like this. A "sane" person simply would not do such things. Sure, there are criminals that purposely, knowingly do such things but I think we would all agree that they are not right in the head.

The definition of "sane" from the American Heritage dictionary:

adj., saner, sanest.
1. Of sound mind; mentally healthy: "their protector, the strongest and sanest of them all" (Pat Conroy).
2. Having or showing sound judgment; reasonable.

People who, for example, attack and murder innocent children simply can not fall into this category for me - ever.

I will admit that there are probably a few insanity defenses that are justifiable - cases where the person was so completely out of their head that they had no idea what they were doing. In these cases, the person shouldn't necessarily be convicted of murder, but they should most definitely be locked up because they are obviously a danger to themselves and everyone around them.

What happens usually with people who are found "not guilty by reason of insanity"? Are the normally institutionalized? Are they forced to get some kind of treatment/counseling/medication...? I'd be curious as to what's done with them after the verdict.

Post Partum & Andrea Yates: I experienced post-partum depression in the weeks after my baby was born. I remember the desperation, the frustration, the exhaustion - the nights when he would not stop crying and I could do nothing but cry with him, the time when I just put him in his crib and called an overnight nurse for help because I couldn't take it any more and felt like I was losing my mind. Not ONCE did I ever think of harming my baby. I sought help, which is what she should have done. At very least, she could have just walked away...

I do not believe that Andrea Yates should be let off the hook. I also disagree with the manner in which they are doping her up to the point where she can't remember what she did. They say that she sought help and didn't get it... Although I do not know many of the details of what transpired before her crime, I do know that she systematically drowned all five of her children, one at a time, and then called the police to tell them that "I've just killed my children." I do feel for her - it had to have been difficult to stay home with five children and handle it all. I think she knew very well what she was doing, however - she wanted a way out. Well, she got it. Regardless of what they do to her, she will be punished for the rest of her life because of what she did.

Sick Cannibal Wannabe - Annie linked to the blog of that bastard in Oklahoma that killed his little 10 year old neighbor girl with the intention of eating her. Check it out. His first post, alone, tells you what kind of person he is. I wouldn't be surprised in the least if they use the insanity defense for him. It's the ONLY way he could possible get away with what he did.

I think that the insanity defense is far too often used as a last-ditch effort to shed responsibility for a crime they were clearly responsible for. This ties in directly with a theory that I've been pondering for quite a while - quite a good theory actually. There is an excellent article on it (damn, the link is at home and I can't find it on Google) that I will link later. It examines the concept that the root of what is wrong with society today - the reason that there are so many lawsuits, so many people getting away with everything from using threats of discrimination to get their way, to taking advantage of people, to getting away with murder, is that our society has transformed from a responsibility based society to a rights based society. It seems that no one is willing to take responsibility for their actions any more and it's sickening. It's not how I was raised.

I can only hope that I am able to instill the sense of responsibility and morals in my son that my parents did in me. As far as how to get society to realize what's going on and change for the better - I have no idea. One child at a time, I suppose - but it's up to us, the parents.

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