A prospective comparison of four insanity defense standards.
ABSTRACT Controversy about the formulation of the insanity defense has been intense, but little empirical work is available regarding how different standards affect court findings. The major aims of the present study were to determine if different standards for determining insanity produced different judgments and to provide a broad descriptive picture of those cases in which the standards appeared to make a difference.
Four forensic psychiatrists were asked to indicate whether they thought 164 defendants met any or all of four insanity tests: 1) the American Law Institute (ALI) cognitive criterion, 2) the ALI volitional criterion, 3) the APA test, and 4) the M'Naghten rule.
The four psychiatrists determined that 97.5% of the defendants met the ALI volitional criterion, 73.9% met the APA criterion, 70.3% met the M'Naghten rule, and 69.5% met the ALI cognitive criterion. Nearly two-thirds of the defendants met all four insanity tests, and 24.4% met only the ALI volitional test. Few defendants met cognitive tests without also meeting the ALI volitional test. Elimination of the volitional test for insanity reduced the rate of psychiatric recommendations of acquittal by 24.4%.
These findings highlight the fact that the primary logical division between volitional and cognitive standards appears to be powerful but that distinctions between types of cognitive standards are not terribly powerful. In addition, the variation among individual raters must be viewed as an important determinant of how any insanity standard is applied.
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ABSTRACT: The paper addresses some common questions about the insanity defense and issues raised by commonly proposed "reforms." The first section begins with a brief description of the insanity defense and the reasons for its existence in the law. It then examines some of the popular myths and public misperceptions surrounding the insanity defense. The next three sections discuss proposed "reforms" and the empirical research that addresses their effect. These reforms, including various procedural changes in definitions, burden of proof, and expert testimony, the institution of a guilty but mentally ill verdict, and the abolition of the insanity defense itself, are reviewed, along with relevant research findings and policy issues. Finally, the development of sound conditional release programs for criminal defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity is proposed as a reform option which could serve the objectives of enhancing public safety and access to appropriate treatment while continuing to meet the objectives of the insanity defense within criminal jurisprudence.Law and Human Behavior 07/1999; 23(3):375-93. · 2.16 Impact Factor