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In all the societies of the world, morality has always been viewed as an important virtue to ensure that individuals live in peace and harmony. To ensure that morality is maintained, a number of rules and norms have been formulated. These rules and norms aim at guiding the acts of individuals to ensure that they act in a manner that is consistent with the practices and traditions of the society [cause and effect]. This practice has been in existence since the beginning of civilization.
With the increase in human populations, development of the brain capacity and advancement of the society, the need and desires of man have always increased [cause and effect]. This has also changed the manner in which man acts and relates with his kin. Many societies therefore adopted different methods of governance to ensure that man lives in peace with his fellow kinsmen. Some societies adopted the capitalism approach while others adopted the communism approach.
Despite the differences in these structures, these two approaches have one thing in common; they are all governed by set rules, laws and procedures. All the individuals who are governed by these rules are expected to adhere to them to the latter. Breaching of the laws that have been set by the state normally amount to either a criminal or a civil wrong. A criminal wrong is an offence that has been committed against the state while a civil wrong is a wrong that has been committed against an individual [definition].
With this regards therefore, all the countries in the world have set laws that have been formulated to guide their subjects. These laws vary from one country to another. They have been formulated to ensure that the rights and duties of the state and its subjects are respected. To ensure that the law is applied effectively and efficiently, a number of maxims have been formulated. The maxim of equity is a prime example (Jacobus 839) [example].
According to this maxim, the law should be applied uniformly to everyone without favour of a given party. This maxim thus ensures that the law treats every individual similarly. However, there are circumstances where there are exceptions to this maxim. One of this circumstances occurs when an individual can prove that he/she was not of sound mind (was insane) at the time when the breach of law occurred. This therefore leads to the main focus of this paper.
This paper will critically analyse how the law should treat individuals who are mentally unstable. It will try to determine whether such individuals should be given a fair treatment, the considerations that should be put in place and the regulations that should be adhered to in order to ensure that the exception does not become a loophole of law.
Mental Disorder and the Law
The purpose of law is to ensure that the rights and duties of the state and its citizens have been respected. Therefore, the law has been formulated in such a way that ensures that these rights are recognised by the state. Any act that is inconsistent with the law will therefore amount to a criminal or a civil wrong. All the individuals who are governed by a specific law therefore owe a duty of care to other individuals who may be affected by their acts or actions.
However, in some instances, the acts of an individual may be guided by other factors that are beyond his control. Mental disorder is one of the main factors that may make an individual to act in a manner that is considered not be normal by the society [example]. Due to this fact, such individuals may act in their subconscious mind.
Due to this fact, it is essential for the law to recognise this fact and give such individuals a special consideration. This is because at the time when they committed these acts, they were not aware of either their actions or the consequences that may accrue (Torry 255).
It is due to this due to this fact that law of many countries has recognised the need to give a special consideration to criminal of civil cases in which individuals who committed the wrongful acts have mental instability. From a survey that I conducted on the cases that have been presented in the state of Florida, approximately 1% of these cases have used insanity or mental instability as a defence. Of these, 25% of these cases have been acquitted on the grounds of mental instability.
This figure can be looked upon from two different perspectives. On the first perspective, one can conclude that the law is flexible and rational. This is because it has taken into consideration the fact that an individual may be driven by other factor into committing acts that he may have avoided if he/she was of sound mind.
The individuals who support this argument thus feel that justice has been served. However, there are those individuals who feel that the special treatment of insane individual is unfair. This is because these individuals are treated more than fairly on the hands of the law. As a result therefore, the individuals who support this argument feel that justice has not been served. This is because the rights, freedom and duties of individuals have not been respected.
It is due to these arguments that several amendments have been made to ensure that the use of insanity as a defence is effectively used to ensure that justice prevails. This has come about as a result of the fact that this defence is seen as a loophole of the law (Torry 256). Many people view this defence as an alternative that wise attorneys and medical personnel use to acquit their clients from the criminal acts that they have committed. Due to the strong argument that they have presented on their case, judges and jurors are normally left with no alternative but to declare such defendants innocent of the crimes that have been presented to them [cause and effect]. This in turn leads to the release of criminals into the society. The overall outcome of this action is that the number of criminals in the society will increase. This will in turn lead to increased acts of crime. As a result, the rights of individuals in the society will not be respected. Once this happens, the law would have failed to administer justice and equality among its subjects (Torry 260).
The main aim of the law is to ensure that justice is served among its subjects. With regards to this fact, the law tries as much as possible to prevent individuals from acting in a manner that is not consistent with the rules and norms of the society. Individuals who breach these rules should face the consequences of their action.
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However, for the law to be effective, it must be fair. That is why it normally gives individuals the chance to prove their innocence before their sentence has been passed. It is due to the principle of fairness that the law recognises that an individual can breach the law due to acts that arose as a result of his/her mental instability. However, for this exception to be granted, a defendant must prove beyond reasonable doubt that he/she was of unsound mind at the time that the wrongful act was committed.
To ensure that insanity is used effectively in criminal proceedings, many federal courts in USA and other countries of the world put careful consideration in the events that led to commission of the criminal act. According to Bonnie (2010), for a case to use insanity as a defence, there are some conditions that have to be fulfilled.
First, the defence must prove that at the time the act was committed, the accused appreciates the wrongfulness of his/her actions (Bonnie 760). With regards to this statement, the defendant can claim that at the time that the act was committed, he was not in control of his actions. On legal terms, this clause is referred to as cognitive prong [definition]. The accused must also prove that he/she was aware of the legal implications of his/her actions at the time that the crime was committed.
In legal terms, this clause is known as the volitional prong (Bonnie 176). According to this prong, an individual should know the impact of his/her actions with regards to the law that governs him [definition].
Therefore, for an individual to be acquitted of his/her crime on the grounds of insanity or mental instability, the defence team must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was at the time of the occurrence of the offence not aware of the cognitive or volitional prongs. As a result therefore, such an individual did not breach the law knowingly. He should therefore be acquitted of the crimes that have been raised against him.
However, in many circumstances, the defence can come up with evidence that may state that the accused was at the time of the crime not of sound mind. This could or could not be the case. As a result, an individual who committed a crime knowingly can be acquitted of his crime if he/she proves that he was not of sound mind at the time of the crime. This thus makes this exception to be a loophole to the law.
With regards to the theory of multiple intelligence that was presented by Howard Gardener, an individual can easily prove the innocence of the accused by using the weaknesses of law (Gardener 507).This is the main reason why there are many people who do not advocate for insanity to be used as a defence in a court of law.
However, if this defence is abolished, then many people who are not of sound mind may not enjoy the principle of fairness of the law as a result of actions that they committed when they were not of sound mind [cause and effect].
It is therefore essential for the court to establish whether an individual was of sound mind at the time that the criminal act was committed. This is done to ensure that those individuals who are of unsound mind are given a fair treatment as a result of their mental condition while those who pretend to be mentally unstable face the full sentence of the law with respect to the specific crimes that they have committed.
There are several cases that can lead to psychosis (Jacobus 840). Schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders and intense stress and depression may have adverse effect on the mental stability of an individual [example]. These conditions may affect the thought process of an individual making it difficult for him/her to differential between illusions and reality. As a result, the judgement of an individual may be impaired. Due to this fact, such an individual may act in a manner that is beyond his control.
For the court to determine whether an individual was mentally unstable at the time that the crime was committed, it needs to have a forensic psychiatrist to determine the criminal responsibility of a patient. In such cases, a psychiatrist may testify in the case either as a fact witness or as an expert witness (Jacobus 841).
When a psychiatrist testifies as a fact witness, his testimony will be based on the direct observation of the facts. Here, a psychiatrist interprets facts as the available evidence has presented them. This includes the medical records and the mental status of the patient. On the other hand, when a psychiatrist testifies as an expert witness, his/her testimony is based on the knowledge that he/posses.
Here, he/she tries to explain the actions of the accused with regards to the case as a result of his mental condition. His/her argument is based on his/her superior knowledge that normal people do not posses. It is therefore the work of psychiatrists to conduct tests to determine whether the accused were of sound mind at the time when the crime was committed. From here, the court can determine whether such an individual shall be acquitted of the charges brought before him or not.
The decision that a court comes up with is also based on the fact of whether they consider only the cognitive prong alone or together with the volitional prong. If a court only considers the cognitive prong, it will be difficult for an individual to prove that he was not of sound mind at the time he/she committed a crime. This is because this clause is based on the fact that an individual appreciate the wrongfulness of his/her actions.
Therefore, if an individual was aware that the act that he/she committed was wrong, then he should suffer the consequences of his/her actions. Many federal courts in the US only use the cognitive prong in their cases. As a result, a high proportion of individuals are convicted as a result of the crimes that they have committed. On the other hand, if a court uses both the cognitive and volitional prongs, insanity if proved can be used to acquit individuals from the charges that have been brought against them.
The law has been formulated to protect the rights of the state and its subjects. Anyone who breaches these laws should be judged before the court of law. However, individual who are mentally disabled should be given special consideration by the law. This is because in the process of breaching the law, they were acting beyond their control.
However, to ensure that this exception is not used as a loophole of the law, an individual must prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was mentally unstable at the time when the crime was committed. This will ensure that the law only persecutes guilty individuals. This will in turn ensure that our society is safe and the rights of the state and its subjects are respected.
Bonnie, Richard. “Should a Personality Disorder Qualify as a Mental Disease in Insanity Adjudication?” Journal of Law, Ethics and Medicine, 4.2 (2010): 760-764. Print.
Gardener, Howard. In A Rounded Version: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, Howard Gardner. New York: Sage, 2010. Print.
Jacobus, Lee. A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Boston: Sage, 2010. Print.
Torry, Zachary. “Overlapping Universe: Understanding Legal Insanity and Psychosis.” Psychiatr, 1.5 (2010): 253–262. Print.