The Insanity Defense and Sociological Views of Crime

At what point can a person be considered insane and what differentiates him/her from people who are just simply evil? The character of “Wild Bill” Wharton (Sam Rockwell) brings into prominence the possibility of criminals faking mental defect or insanity. He is shown exhibiting all the signs of catatonia and sedation when he was first picked up from the mental hospital. Yet in the succeeding scenes, this exhibition is proven to be nothing more than an act as he waits for just the right moment to jump his guards and cause merry hell in the cellblock while strangling one of the prison guards with his handcuffs.

According to Reznek (16), there are two types of insanity applicable to law. The first type is when a person is judged and proven to be out of touch with reality (due to delusion or hallucination) or if the individual is suffering from some mental incapacity or disease that therefore renders him incapable of acting or taking responsibility for his actions. In the United States, serial offenders and murderers have often tried this tact in their defense.

Most, like the character “Wild Bill” has been found competent enough to stand trial and sentencing. Notable people who have tried to go the path of insanity as a defense but were subsequently found competent include Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe and cannibal/serial murderer Jeffrey Dahmer. Also, enough mention is made of the tattoo of the infamous “Billy the Kid” on “Wild Bill’s” arm. Is it his affinity with the notorious Billy the Kid or is it his “label” that motivates Wild Bill to be as he is?

Albanese (40) cites the “labeling theory” as proposed by the sociologist Howard Becker in 1939 that suggests that individuals act according to the labels that society brands them. Individual behavior does not dictate the label rather, it is the label that dictates how an individual behaves. Going by this theory, “Wild Bill” then is merely delivering the sort of behavior expected from the “label” attached to him. Public Executions

Every execution that took place in the film was held publicly in front of not only the victim’s families but also whoever wanted to watch. Those in favor of the death penalty believe that public showing of execution acts as an effective deterrent to crime not to mention the satisfaction of the victim’s families that indeed, justice has been served (Levi). In the years following the establishment of anti-death penalty groups, executions became private in the hope that the drunken riots and protests following public executions be diminished.

In modern times however, the holding of “private executions” in states that have re-introduced the death penalty have gained opposition from the media who protest for their and the public’s right to cover and know of such events as provided for by the First Amendment: “We hold that the right to attend criminal trials is implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment; without the freedom to attend such trials, which people have exercised for centuries, important aspects of freedom of speech and `of the press could be eviscerated. ‘” (Levi)