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Abnormal Psychology - Guilty by Reason of Insanity

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1. Please review the advantages and disadvantages of each of the three "rules" that govern a finding of guilty by reason of insanity. Which of the three do you think is best?

2.What criteria might be used to determine if a person should be committed? What is the procedure involved in a civil commitment?

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Solution Summary

Though discussion, research and case examples, this solution reviews the advantages and disadvantages of each of the three "rules" that govern a finding of guilty by reason of insanity, and examines which of the three is best. It then discusses the criteria that might be used to determine if a person should be committed as well as the procedure involved in a civil commitment.

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Please refer to attached file for my response (Also below). I hope this helps and take care.


I will respond to your questions in the order that you presented them.

1. "Please review the advantages and disadvantages of each of the three "rules" that govern a finding of guilty by reason of insanity. Which of the three do you think is best?"

According to Rosenhan & Deligman (1984), the three "rules" that govern a finding of guilty by reason of insanity are as follows:

1) M'Naghten and the Irresistible-Impulse Rules :

- holds that "it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong."

Disadvantages: Not until the early 1900's was the M'Naghten definition of legal insanity seriously challenged. Legal scholars and mental health experts advocated for a more expansive definition of legal insanity. Many criticized the fact that under the M'Naghten Rule, individuals who are able to form the criminal intent but cannot control their actions due to an irresistible impulse, will be convicted and punished. These professionals emphasized the "volitional" component of legal insanity, or the ability to conform one's actions to the requirements of the law. As a result, many courts added to M'Naghten an additional, more generous standard for legal insanity, that came to be known as the Irresistible Impulse Test. Debates concerning the proper definition of legal insanity continued into the 1950's. The Durham standard - sometimes called the "product test" - followed, but was heavily criticized for its expansive definition of legal insanity (Source: URL: http://www.forensic-evidence.com/site/Behv_Evid/Finger_insanity.html). Obviously, the M'Naghton is a relatively narrow test, which relies merely on what the accused knew and whether he or she knew it was wrong (see on-line source for more details on the disadvantages on p. 3 http://io.uwinnipeg.ca/~walton/75philper.pdf)

2) Durham Rule

In Durham v. United States. Judge David Bazelon broadened the insanity defense to state that:

"an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect."

Notice the difference between the Durham "mental disease," and the M'Naughton "right-wrong" test. One disadvantage is that the Durham test, incapacitating conditions, such as the inability to tell right from wrong are not specified. One goes directly from "mental disease" to the act (Brooks, 1974), leaving it to advanced knowledge in psychiatry and psychology to determine whether the act was or was not a product of mental disease or mental defect. As Justice Bazelon maintained, the Durham rule was an experiment, one that extended for some eighteen years, from 1954 until 1972, and during which time, a view of criminal responsibility and nonresponsibility was developed.

Disadvantages: Fundamentally, the Durham rule was withdrawn for two reasons: (1) it relied too heavily on the expert testimony of psychiatrists, rendering judge and jury wholly dependent upon psychiatric testimony of the determination of criminal responsibility, and (2) it was as difficult then as it is now to know and attain agreement about what constitutes a "mental disease." The metaphor itself left much to be desired, implying a distinct and verifiable organic state. Moreover, one could never be sure which of the disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ...

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