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Understanding and Testing the Insanity Defense

One of the most controversial defenses that a defendant can raise is the insanity defense. While it is raised in fewer than 10% of cases and is successful in a measly 2%, when it does arise, it inspires a lot of conversation about the merits of not punishing those that are insane and how even to define insanity.

In general, the idea behind not punishing those that are deemed by the law to be “insane” works for both utilitarian courts and retributive courts. For utilitarians, there is no point in punishing those that are insane since it will not deter future insane individuals from committing the same crime. On the retributive side, it is not right to punish a person that was unable to realize that his or her actions were wrong. Regardless of which view the court adopts, the truly insane are generally not punished for crimes.

The most common test in United States courts for determining insanity combines the M'Naughten Test that was borrowed from England with the Irresistible Impulse Test. By combining the two tests, the twin issues of “cognition” and “volition” are analyzed. For a while, the M'Naughten test was the only test applied. This test is very hard to meet and is based only on cognition.

As our understanding of the human mind expanded, it was recognized that a person could recognize that something was wrong but have an irresistible impulse that would prevent him or her from refraining from action.

The irresistible impulse test accounts for a lack of volition in an individual. It is never used alone and always is used in conjunction with the M'Naughten test. The combination of these two tests forms the rule for insanity in the majority of courts in the United States.

If you have been accused of a crime in the Appleton area, contact the Appleton criminal defense attorneys of Hart Powell, S.C. at 1-888-565-7597.