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The standards applied in asserting that a defendant is not guilty due to insanity have changed continuously over the years from some strict measures to simpler ones. According to these standards, a person can be judged not responsible for crimes committed if during the time criminal act he could not appreciate the nature of the wrong act due to mental illness. This is because the intent of the person is considered as part of the offense. This essay looks at some of the standards for legal insanity that have been used in Florida (Bacigal, 2008).
Standards for legal insanity in Florida
The first standard was the M'Naughten rule which began in 1843. This was after M'Naughten mistakenly killed the secretary of the British Prime Minister. During his trial, he claimed that at the time of murder he was suffering from delusion and several other witnesses supported his insanity. After a review by a panel of judges, a rule was developed by those judges that stated that "a defendant should not be held responsible for his or her actions if during the time of crime, he could not differentiate the right from the wrong due to mental disability" (Morse, 2002).
The other rule is of Irresistible Impulse Test. This was developed following psychiatrists argument that a person can be able to understand a wrong act but cannot refrain from doing it. However this rule is criticised on the basis that it does not specify how the defendant was unable to control him or herself from committing the wrong act.
Another rule is The Substantial Capacity Test. This test was to complete the M'Naughten rule. It states that the defendant cannot be held responsible for his criminal act if by the time of committing the crime, due to mental illness, he or she could not appreciate the wrongness of the act or could not conform to requirements of the law.
These standards were then revised in 1984 after John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan and was not charged with the murder due to reasons of insanity. Due to much public outcry, the standards were then reviewed and the Insanity Defense Reform Act (IDRA) was enacted. This act states that a person may be found not guilty over a crime due to reasons of insanity if due to severe mental illness he could not appreciate the nature of the wrong act. After the Hinckley's incident, many states abolished the insanity defense law. Others enacted the plea of Guilty But mentally Ill (BGMI) while others completely abolished the issue (Morse, 2002).
However, Florida follows the M'Naughten rule. Under this rule, every person is presumed to be mentally upright and therefore one should establish grounds of insanity during the time of committing the crime. One should be able to explain that he or she could not understand the nature of the act, whether it was wrong or right. Under this rule, the test is whether the insane person is able to differentiate between wrong and right. However, this rule is often faced with dilemmas especially when it comes to judge in knowledge of the defendant concerning the right and the wrong. Another dilemma comes because there is no set treatment for those who are found to understand that their act was wrong but they could not be able to restrain themselves from doing them. This rule is very inflexible and it is difficult to find insane persons not guilty. This rule also does not clearly define what mental disability is, and also that it does not consider the issues of controlling the situation if the defendant is aware of whether the act is right or wrong (Hoffman, 2010).
According to me, this rule seems insufficient and it may end up finding most insane people guilty of their actions. The best rule to follow should be the irresistible impulse act. This act allows for determining whether even if the insane person knew that the act was wrong, he could or could not refrain from doing it. This rule seems to be sufficient because on top of insanity, the defendant could have his own intentions of committing the crime. Someone may be insane and at the same time he may be high tempered. Such a person could not control his tempers due to his state of mind. A sane person may have tempers but may be able to control them because of his or her sanity. But an insane person may not act well in conditions that need self control. Knowing that the act is wrong, the insane person may commit it because of anger which he may not be able to control.
When applying this rule, the case is looked at whether the defendant was subject to Duress or Undue influence. Under Duress, the person is compelled to commit the act by unlawful pressure which in he would not have done under his or her free will. Under, Undue influence, the person commits the act under circumstances that he could be able to avoid. This test seems to a little bit fair and I would recommend it to be used in Florida courts (Hoffman, 2010).
Insanity is a condition that could make a person to commit great crimes which he could not have done in the normal situation. The law however recognizes this condition and such a person is judged not guilty. There are other situations where an insane person may be able to tell a right and a wrong act. Such a person may be found guilty if he or she committed a crime knowingly. However, the insanity defense rule in Florida needs to add the factor that an insane person can be able to refrain from doing the act. If one can, he should be judged guilty of committing a wrong act that he could refrain from.
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