Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is there a right to plead "insanity?"

There’s no doubt John Joseph Delling knew what he was doing. His carefully planned 2007 crime spree lasted weeks, covered 6,500 miles and culminated in two people dead and one seriously wounded.

He had his reasons, too. Delling, then 21, had become “a type of Jesus,” he later explained, and the men he attacked, two of them former classmates he had not seen in years, were stealing his “energy.” An MRI of his brain would have revealed the damage the men had already caused, he told authorities.
Read the rest here.

If it is possible for a human being to be so mentally ill that he/she really doesn't grasp what they are doing or the morality of it then yes, I do think that they or their lawyers have the right to raise that in court. Insanity is a very rare defense and it is almost always an "affirmative defense." By which the law means that the burden of proof shifts to the defense. I don't know of any jurisdiction where the prosecution is required to prove the defendant was sane.  Normally as a condition of pleading insanity the defense has to first in effect concede that their guy did it and then they try to prove that he was several fries short of a happy meal and didn't know the difference between right and wrong. Since this is a very hard thing to prove usually an insanity defense only comes into play when when the evidence of guilt is so overwhelming that the defense basically goes for a legal "hail marry" pass. Or in those extremely rare cases where the defendant really is completely off his nut.

The insanity defense is a popular bugaboo. But the reality is that it is rarely attempted and then its success rate is extremely low.


rsgreen30 said...

I see murder cases ALL the time. It's what I do (I'm a reporter). I have seen it used so rarely I can't remember the last time. In Indiana, the bar is extremely high -- you have to not know the difference between right and wrong at the time the crime was committed. I know of one case it would have fit, but the jury disregarded it as a defense because one psychologist said the defendant used her own measure of right and wrong, therefore knew something was right and something was wrong. I personally think that fit the bill (she was convinced her child was possessed, had been hallucinating, etc and killed him during a home-made exorcism. She kept his body with her for a year, believing God would reanimate it). She clearly believed that what she did was the right thing to do, in spite of NO evidence of possession (from a spiritual point of view)

So even though it fit the case, the jury didn't have to buy it and they didn't.

This guy's not crazy. He's evil. I think a jury's gonna know the difference.

CJ said...

In four years in felony court I saw it used once, and that one time was successful.

Similar to rsgreen's case, it was woman who drowned her children attempting to exorcise them. By the end of the trial, the prosecution was mailing it in. Everybody was convinced that the woman was absolutely crazy. Here in Ohio, they can lock you in the nut house for as long as you could be imprisoned, so she got life in a mental institution.