Why The Insanity Defense Is Insane

by | Mar 6, 2002

Andrea Yates, charged with killing her five young children, is attempting to prove that she was insane at the time and is therefore not responsible. “Insane” in this context is defined by our legal theorists simply as “not knowing right from wrong.” How can “not knowing right from wrong” serve as an excuse for murder? […]

Andrea Yates, charged with killing her five young children, is attempting to prove that she was insane at the time and is therefore not responsible.

“Insane” in this context is defined by our legal theorists simply as “not knowing right from wrong.”

How can “not knowing right from wrong” serve as an excuse for murder? All it really means is: “I didn’t know any better.” A child might offer this excuse after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar, or when getting into some other kind of trouble. Indeed, a child might not fully understand the difference between right and wrong; but good parents will still hold children accountable for their actions. Doesn’t it make sense that adults should receive the same treatment?

Andrea Yates is no different from the excuse-making child. She expects us to believe that she didn’t know any better — even though it clearly took deliberate action and planning for a sustained period of time to do what she did. She and her attorneys even admit that what she did was wrong. Somehow, she wants us to believe she made it into adulthood without acquiring the ability to figure out that murdering your children is wrong. Yet, faced with the death penalty, she suddenly develops the capacity for distinguishing right from wrong. Quite an intellectual accomplishment!

Don’t be mystified by the psychiatric testimony. The psychiatrists argue, “She shouldn’t be jailed. This woman is obviously insane. She should be treated in a hospital until she’s cured.” Of course, all this means is that the psychiatrists should have custody of her until THEY feel enough time has passed to allow her back into freedom. The state would quite appropriately give Ms. Yates the death penalty, or life in prison. The psychiatrists would probably give her two years in a mental hospital, at most (or less, depending upon what her insurance covers). Then she’d go free.

Take it from a mental health professional who has worked in mental hospitals (including a forensic one): the insanity defense is nothing more than a transfer of responsibility. Courts, judges, and juries no longer want to call a spade a spade. They no longer have the courage or the confidence to distinguish right from wrong — even against established murderers. Instead, they recklessly hand this responsibility over to psychiatrists who are experimenting with what amounts to (in polite terms) a very young science.

In the process, our court system commits an injustice against not only the five little victims — but also against the rest of us who inhabit a world where violent killers (thanks to these psychiatric excuses) can now feel safer.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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