The contorversy of the insanity plea

Controversy Over the Insanity Plea In this paper, I will attempt to examine the controversial issue of the “insanity plea”. It is an issue that professionals find very difficult to define especially in court cases when it comes down to an individual being found guilty or innocent of a crime. Insanity, in law is a condition of mind that causes a person to be incapable of attending to his own affairs or not responsible for his conduct. “Incompetence” is the more usual term in civil procedure; “insanity” is used largely in the context of criminal matters. The fact can legally be established by a jury in an ordinary case, although inquests or commissions are frequently used in the United States when the question is one of incompetency. A decision as to an individual’s mental condition in a court proceeding may utilize expert testimony, and such testimony frequently produces conflicting medical and legal opinions. Throughout history, the insanity defense has been a long debated issue. Guidelines for determining who is mentally incompetent have been altered numerous times, making it difficult to follow a concrete definition of “insane”. Furthermore, the public’s misconceptions of the insanity plea and the type of individuals who use this defense have added to the controversies surrounding this point. The 1982 assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan brought much attention to the insanity plea. At his trial, John Hinckley, the would-be assassin, was found not guilty by reason of insanity, an unpopular verdict that brought the plea itself into question and prompted many tests of it’s validity (Holden, 1983). As a result, a variety of proposals were put forth, ranging from retention of the insanity plea in it’s present form to it’s outright abolition. Hinckley’s attempt on Reagan’s life is not the first time such an …

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