The insanity defense dates back to the first recognized case treatise in 1581. It stated, “If a madman or a natural fool, or a lunatic in the time of his lunacy do [kill a man], this is no felonious act for they cannot be said to have any understanding will.”
In the 1700s, they came up with the “wild beast test” which basically states that if someone isn’t really aware of what they are doing, while they are doing it, then all is good and they can’t be responsible for their crimes. They later renamed the test the M’Naughten test.
The M’Naughten test was named after a Mr. Daniel M’Naughten in 1843 after he murdered the Prime Minister’s secretary in an attempt to murder the Prime Minister because he believed that the Prime Minister was responsible for various personal and financial misfortunes that had come upon him. The queen got really angry when the verdict was not guilty by reason of insanity. He was then institutionalized for the rest of his life. After his case, the rules of who can be declared not guilty by reason of insanity.
The rules of the M’Naughten state that: you must most likely be insane, you have to have a brain condition – not just get angry and carried away, defendant doesn’t understand what they did and know that the act was wrong.
After the M’Naughten rule came about, most different countries, including the United States, adopted the rules without changing anything. The most recent reform of the rules was in 1984 where congress tightened the rules on it. Very few people get the “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict since then. There are three states who have abolished the insanity defense act all together– Utah, Montana and Idaho.
The “Guilty but Mentally Ill” verdict came about with the reform. The defendant is legally guilty and serves the same amount of time, but instead of serving that time in prison, they do so in an insane asylum. I do agree with this, but I also think that once they do their time, they need to continued to be monitored throughout their remaining years.
I come from a family with various mental disorders. Even if a doctor prescribes them a medication to balance the chemical imbalance in their brains, one day, they decide they’re better and no longer take their medicine. I’m not saying this happens with everyone who have depression or are bipolar or any other psychological disorder, but it is very common.
I think that the trials should not consider insanity in the case, but should be more of an afterthought. It should be guilty or not guilty and with the sentence and then evaluate psychological disorders to decide how the sentence should be carried out – in prison or in an asylum.