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Court for Mentally Ill: Commonwealth v. Bobbitt Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2021

Introduction

The 1993-1994 court case of Lorena Bobbitt, who severed her husband’s penis with a kitchen knife after being raped by him upon his return from a party in a severely intoxicated condition, involves the Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity plea (Samaha, 2017). Although insanity defense is rarely used and is less successful even in cases in which offenders appear to suffer from more severe disorders, the Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity plea was successful in the given case (Commonwealth v. Bobbitt, 1993). This paper discusses the defender’s mental disorder, the relationship between the actions taken and behaviors demonstrated which could impact the decision of the court, as well as discusses the outcome of the case and its correctness.

The Mental Disorder and Symptoms

On the whole, the court decided that Lorena Bobbitt experienced an irresistible impulse, during which she committed the aforementioned violent act. The jury came to that decision based on the evidence that Lorena’s husband regularly employed violence against her, repeatedly battering her, throwing her against a wall, using torture to inflict pain upon her, and raping her, therefore causing her to live in constant fear (Commonwealth v. Bobbitt, 1993).

It was taken into account that on the day of the mutilation, John Wayne Bobbitt also raped his wife. It was decided that, due to being a victim of continuous and severe domestic violence, Lorena was suffering from serious clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Bell, n.d.), and eventually lost control over her actions when she saw a knife during her visit to the kitchen after the rape. It was also taken into account that Lorena allegedly did not remember the process of severing the penis, and only realized what she had done later, while she saw the penis in her hand while driving a car to which she retreated after the act of mutilation (“John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt trials,” 2002).

Thus, the indicators of Lorena’s mental condition during the crime included symptoms characteristic of clinical depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, the absence of memories pertaining to the process of severing her husband’s reproductive organ, and the evidence of being a victim to brutal domestic violence.

Actions and Behavior Causing the Court to Remand Lorena for a Mental Evaluation

Apparently, the actions and circumstances which took place prior to Lorena’s act of severing her husband’s penis, namely, the rape of Lorena Bobbitt by her husband, as well as the constant domestic violence of John Wayne Bobbitt aimed at his wife, were found to be capable of inducing a serious depressive disorder in the woman, as well as causing her to lose control over her actions when she saw the knife in the kitchen (Samaha, 2017).

Simultaneously, due to the behavior displayed by Lorena (severing the penis), she was perceived as potentially carrying a danger towards society. The mental state of the woman and her stated inability to take control over her actions may be considered evidence of a pathological state of her mind (Whitbourne, 2017), which justified the act of remanding the defendant for a mental evaluation in a hospital (Samaha, 2017).

Evaluation of the Outcome of the Case

In terms of the defendant, the outcome of this case was optimal, because it permitted Lorena to undergo a psychiatric evaluation so as to make sure that her mental health was not endangered while freeing her from the liability that she was facing because of committing the crime. It is stated that cases resolved as Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity usually result in the defendant being placed in a mental health hospital, the length of stay in which often exceeds the time which the defendant would have to spend in prison; however, in this case, Lorena Bobbitt avoided such a fate and was released after several weeks of stay (Greene & Heilbrun, 2014).

As for the victim, the outcome of the trial would probably have not had a considerable impact on his life regardless of what it would be unless it would have been decided that Lorena had to pay compensation to John Bobbitt. The couple divorced sometime after the process (“John Wayne and Lorena Bobbitt trials,” 2002). In any case, John Bobbitt was able to get his penis surgically reattached to him, so the damage caused to him was mitigated, at least partially (Davoli, 2005).

In the terms of community, it should be noted that the case attained a considerable amount of popularity in the U.S. Large numbers of people publicly sided with Lorena, for she was a victim of severe domestic violence for a long period of time (CBS News, 2008). The acquittal of the defendant on the basis of her insanity at the time of the crime was perceived by many as just (CBS News, 2008), for convicting her would mean that unwillingly snapping due to constant battering and violence would be punished while the real offender would walk free and continue ruining lives of other females.

Discussing the Court Decision

On the whole, the decision of the court to acquit Lorena Bobbitt on the basis of her being not guilty by the reason of insanity at the time of committing the crime appears well-grounded and just. First, it was known that the defender was suffering from serious clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Bell, n.d.), which allows for concluding that she had undergone serious adversity prior to the event of her husband’s mutilation.

It was also clear that the woman had suffered from repeated domestic violence, rape, and battery, and lived in fear most of the time. Therefore, especially due to her fear, it is unlikely that she would have engaged in the process of severing the penis of her husband, who was the man she feared if she had been in her normal state of mind (Whitbourne, 2017). On the other hand, it is highly probable that she indeed lost control over her actions, which caused her to mutilate her husband while experiencing an irresistible impulse (Samaha, 2017).

It should also be pointed out that deciding that the woman was guilty would probably have had adverse political/ethical consequences, showing the country that a constantly terrorized, scared to death woman who had no means of protecting herself would have been persecuted by the legal system even if she lost her sanity due to the constant violence that she had been experiencing, and attacked her perpetrator in the state of a mental disorder.

Therefore, the decision of the court to acquit Lorena Bobbitt on the basis of being not guilty by the reason of insanity seems appropriate from both the point of view of the evidence presented for the court, as well as from the viewpoint of probably making the future slightly safer and freer from the acts of domestic violence.

Conclusion

On the whole, it should be stressed that Lorena Bobbitt was acquitted of her crime as being not guilty by the reason of insanity at the time of the crime, and remanded for a mental evaluation, which, however, did not last long. The court decision appears correct both on the basis of the presented evidence and with respect to the political implications of this case.

References

Bell, R. (n.d.). Crimes below the belt: Penile removal and castration. Web.

CBS News. (2008). . CBS News. Web.

Commonwealth v. Bobbit, No. 93-CR-33821 (1993).

Davoli, J. I. (2005). Reconsidering the consequences of an insanity acquittal. New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement, 31, 3-14.

Greene, E., & Heilbrun, K. (2014). Wrightsman’s psychology and the legal system (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

. (2002). Web.

Samaha, J. (2017). Criminal law (12th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Whitbourne, S. K. (2017). Abnormal psychology: Clinical perspectives on psychological disorders (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Court for Mentally Ill: Commonwealth v. Bobbitt." May 13, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/court-for-mentally-ill-commonwealth-v-bobbitt/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Court for Mentally Ill: Commonwealth v. Bobbitt'. 13 May.

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