The Insanity Plea

Jared Chauvin

What is the insanity plea?

Also known as the mental disorder defense, it is a defense used in criminal trials arguing that a psychiatric illness is responsible for the actions of an individual. The charged criminal is evaluated by a psychiatrist, who then deems whether the individual was in control of their actions or not. Contrary to my presuppositions, the insanity defense is rarely used and even more rarely successful. Surprisingly it is used in only 1% of U.S. court cases and successful less than 25% of the time. Three states - Montana, Idaho, and Utah - have decided to not allow the plea in court at all. It is commonly criticized for being too subjective in it's diagnosis. Many have realized that it is easy to fake being crazy in order to reduce punishment. In this pamphlet, I will show you my opinion on the legitimacy of the insanity plea.
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Lorena Bobbitt

John and Lorena Bobbitt were a young couple from Virginia. John was an abusive husband throughout their marriage, and on June 23h 1993, John came home quite inebriated and began to rape Lorena. After the incident, Lorena grabbed a knife from the kitchen and proceeded to cut off the genitalia of her sleeping husband. In her defense, Lorena claimed that she suffered from clinical depression, which caused her to harm her husband. She was acquitted of her charges due to temporary insanity and that she was not in control of her actions. After 45 days of psychiatric evaluation, Lorena was released and is now an advocate for domestic violence. Lorena's story is one of the few cases where the insanity plea is actually effective, and maybe the only case where it was for a plausible reason.

My opinion

Contrary to popular opinion, I believe that the insanity plea is an acceptable defense in the court of law. As seen in the case of Lorena Bobbitt, it isn't always the "easy way out" for a serial killer as many believe it to be. I also believe this because the likelihood of the insanity defense being used in a court of law and also being effective is awfully low. And those who are deemed as legally insane in a court case are still being removed from society, keeping the public safe. Making it a very unavailable excuse for most criminals.

Additional information

In a court of law, one or more of these four test are used to explain legal insanity:

The "M'Naghten Rule" - Defendant didn't understand what they did or couldn't distinguish right from wrong due to a "disease of the mind."

The "Irresistible Impulse" Test - Because of a mental disease, the defendant could not control his or her impulses leading to a criminal act.

The "Durham Rule" - Regardless of clinical diagnosis, the mental defect of the defendant caused them to commit a criminal act.

The "Model Penal Code" Test for Legal Insanity - Because of the mental defect, the defendant could not understand the criminality of his or her acts, or could not understand the confines of the law.


To qualify for the insanity plea, the defendant must be evaluated by at least one psychiatrist. I believe that at the very least, two psychologists should evaluate a criminal to determine where they are legally insane. These requirements are determined by the States. For a psychiatrist to deem one to be legally insane, the defendant would need to have behavior-controlling mental illnesses such as severe depression, mania, psychoses, or anxiety disorders such as PTSD. None of the listed mental illnesses are very easy to "fake" to a psychologist, which would be a counter-argument to those who believe that faking an illness is easy and to those who believe that the tests are too subjective. In my eyes it's pretty black and white, those who have behavior-altering mental conditions like the ones listed above are not fully in control of their actions. In a Huffington Post article titled "The Insanity of the Insanity Defense," the author calls the defense bologna, saying that the killer "knew exactly what he was doing..." when the author himself is not a psychiatrist and most likely not educated on the specific mental illnesses someone like the killer could've had. Regarding the sentence of those rare defendants who succeeded in their plea for insanity, I believe that no time should be removed. Even though they aren't in prison they are still removed from the public. In my opinion, those with behavior-altering mental illnesses cannot be held accountable for their actions.

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John Hinckley Jr.

Hinckley was obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver, in which Robert Deniro plays a character that plots an assassination of the presidential candidate. Hinckley, being infatuated with the movie, attempted to assassinate Ronald Reagan in an attempt to live vicariously through this movie character. Hinckley's defense team pleaded for the insanity defense and actually won. Due to the publicity of this case, most states reenact reforms of legislation surrounding the insanity defense.

Works cited

"Anders Behring Breivik." Bio.com. A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


"Top 10 Most Notorious Insanity Defense Cases - Listverse." Listverse. N.p., 10 Apr. 2012. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


"The Insanity Defense." Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


"Insanity Defense - FindLaw." Findlaw. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


Jaffee, Robert David. "The Insanity of the Insanity Defense." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.


Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.