The Insanity Defense

The movie "A Time to Kill" raises many different issues. The most important issue raised in this movie is the question of criminal insanity. This movie portrays the process of trying to convict a person that is assumed criminally insane. It is very understandable how one side could say, well if criminally insane people are allowed to receive lessened sentences, and then more people would plead criminally insane. But the other side of this argument presents a pretty strong case as well. This is the point that people who are truly insane do not deserve to be punished as harsh as someone who committed a crime that was a planned act of violence.

There is probably no set system that can be used in all cases when determining whether someone was actually insane during a crime. This doesn't mean that is should not be attempted to figure out whether or not the defendant actually was insane during their crime. Should criminally insane people be punished as severely as regular criminals? The mentally ill should not be held accountable for their crimes like a common criminal. The first side of this argument says that criminally insane people deserve the chance to get help for their condition, instead of harsh punishment.

Supporters of this view think that instead of throwing the people who were mentally insane at the time of their crime in the same facilities as normal criminals, we should try and cure their mental illness. Ex-convicts might later turn out to give a lot back to society. If the court system were just to lock up every person that was truly insane, these people might even cause more trouble in the normal prisons. This argument does make a lot of sense, but it leaves open the case of someone just pretending to be insane and receiving a lessened sentence. It is not really fair to allow someone to not

pay their correct debt to society just because they pretended to be insane. One person in support of this view is Molly Ivins who writes for the St. Louis Post. This excerpt shows her support of the insanity plea. "Andrea Yates — the Houston mother who drowned her five children in the bathtub — is the poster woman for a long-needed change in the law. Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal is now indicating that he may not seek the death penalty after all, but will go for a life sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. This woman needs to be put in a mental hospital, not put to death or in prison for life.

She's clearly insane — almost as insane as the Texas criminal justice system. Yates has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Well, she's guilty. She killed her five kids and then called the police to report that she'd done it. Nothing can make her not guilty of that hideous act, but she is not a responsible person. The system needs a plea of guilty but insane. " (Ivins 4) In this example one could easily understand why all people do not feel that all criminals should be held accountable for their actions. Carol Coulter brings up another valid point, which supports this claim. She is a writer for the Irish Times.

In her brief article she describes how the outdated insanity laws are more than overdue for a change. She intends to prove this point in her article by displaying a recent court case. Coulter describes the decision of the jury in the Central Criminal Court to find David Brennan guilty of the murder of his baby nephew, but on grounds of insanity. His mother's concerns for his mental health were clearly sufficient evidence for the jury. She describes, " How under the existing law, there are only two options – guilty, implying full knowledge of the implications of the act committed, or insane, and therefore not guilty

because of an incapacity to understand the meaning of the crime. If the latter verdict is brought in, the person is detained, however, as a legally innocent person he can seek his release on the grounds of insanity. " (Coulter 3) This weakness in the law has led to dubious decisions in the past, and to calls for reform of the law, which first arose in 1978. This article is very important in this claim because it portrays the very nature of the criminally insane plea. Are there some criminals who truly can't tell the difference between right and wrong? This question raises many opinions and views. The second side of

this argument explains that all people should be punished equally for committing the same crime. This side argues how as people are allowed to received reduced sentences for pleading not guilty, more truly guilty people will likely plead that way. This might be true, but do the real insane criminals deserve to be faulted for a few cases? Victims and their families may tell you the insanity defense is strictly a cop-out, a legal loophole that lets killers off the hook. But mental health experts insist there are times when a person simply cannot control his actions and should not be held fully accountable like a common criminal.

I think that each case should be viewed differently. I personally like the fact that in this situation all people are held accountable for their actions. To some degree this can be viewed as fair because it sets a basic standard for everyone. But it is also not really fair to say that someone who intentionally went out and committed a crime should be punished the same as someone who was unaware of their actions. One example of someone in support of this theory of everyone being equally punished, is Chris Jones. Jones is a writer of the Nationwide News Limited, which is published in Queensland, Australia.

Jones wrote an article concerning the growing number of accused criminals avoiding trial because of mental illness. He states how this number has almost quadrupled in Queensland over the past twelve years. In his article Jones gives hard evidence supporting this claim. He states, " In 1989, the tribunal – which consists of a Supreme Court judge and tow psychiatrist – received 71 applications and found 35 people were unfit to stand trial.

However, the 2000-2001 financial year, the number of applications to the tribunal had blown out to 297 cases and, of the 210 it finalized during the year, 133 accused criminal were judged to be criminally insane. " (Jones 2) This quote gives some startling evidence about this growing problem. Though these quotes are very important to the argument, I believe that they are not the most important part of this discussion. I would like to believe that every case in the legal system is different, and there can be no set type of punishment for every case. I believe that the correct answer and punishment can only be assessed after the jury can truly figure out if a defendant is truly mentally stable. In conclusion the movie "A Time to Kill" shows the process of trying to convict a presumed criminally insane defendant.

This movie raises an important topic on whether the plea of criminal insanity should even be used. There are really two main sides in this debate. This is whether or not that you believe that all criminals should be held accountable for their actions. At first I personally thought that all people should be held responsible for their actions. After studying this issue I feel that there are instances when a criminal is not mentally liable for their actions. The correct studying of both sides of the issue should render each person their own personal opinion on the subject.