There is no purpose to be served by criminalizing conduct that a defendant does not understand or cannot control.
The attempt of criminalizing conduct that the defendant has no understanding and is unable to control does not meet the criminal justice aspect of justice, equality and fairness to the parties involved as in the cases of insanity and automatism or murder of diminished responsibility and loss of control. In this regard, the defendant is controlled by external forces that they have no control over to commit a crime; thus, it will be only fair to address the external factors instead of convicting the defendant. The field of criminal justice has experienced mixed reactions and opinions on handling defendants that have been involved in committing crimes out of their own free will in the interest of serving justice, equality and fairness to the defendant and the victims in the crimes (Ormerod, 2015). It is vital to note that circumstances and conditions experienced by the defendants incline them to engage in crime, and thus convicting them without considering their condition will not serve the aspects of justice, fairness and equality to the parties is interested in such cases. Consequently, the law needs to be sufficiently developed and equipped to ensure that it can effectively handle the cases where the defendant engages in crime due to insanity, automatisms and conditions beyond their control. In this regard, the defendant is handled most appropriately to ensure they are offered the relevant help to ensure that they do not engage in such crimes or any other crime in the future due to their nature and external forces. In such cases, persons involved in crime due to insanity or external forces should be judged or handled differently from normal people engaged in crime out of their free will. The process of criminalizing the conduct of a defendant should be based on the defendant’s condition (insanity and automatism) and circumstances (diminished responsibility and loss of control)to determine their guilt in the interest of serving justice, equality and fairness to all the parties involved.
The legal position of defendants unable to understand or control their criminal conduct
The legal position on handling insanity driven crimes have consistently changed as indicated through the defense approaches and tactics adopted and accepted in the courts of law. In this regard, the English law enables a suspect of a crime not convicted on very restricted occasions because they were insane at the time of the crime (Peay, 2012). The criminal lawyers pull an insanity defense to exonerate their clients from the criminal accusations. On the other hand, the automatism aspect is raised when the victim was in total lack of control for their action at the time of the alleged offense.
First, the law as provisions regulating the unfitness to take a plea to prevent suspects being put on trial from trial since they are thought to be incapable of participating appropriately in the legal proceedings. The criminal justice system deems it unfair to try a suspect who cannot defend themselves due to legally defend themselves (Peay, 2012). When the judge decides that the defendant is not fit to stand trial, the trial stops, and fact-finding heating occurs instead. When the hearing ends, and the judge decided that the suspect got involved in crime due to insanity, they are not convicted and thus cannot be sentenced.
The unfitness to take plea entails the mental state of the accused at the time of trial. At the same time, the defenses on the automatism and insanity concentrate on the accused’s mental state when they committed the offense. The suspect of a crime might have a mental disorder that influenced them when they were involved in crime, and the same mental disorder must be affecting when the case is taken to court (Dejchai, 2019). The aspect of unfitness and insanity overlap, but they involve various questions on the accused person’s mental capacity to handle the criminal justice process’s different stages. The insanity and automatism aspects are defined and ascertained from the field of psychology, psychiatry and medicine.
The insanity defense is provided under the “M’Naghten Rules,” as presented by the House of Lords in 1843, to establish a defense on insanity. The insanity defense goes through when it is proved that at the time of the act the accused was acting under the influence of disease of the mind, and does not know what they were doing was in contravention of set laws and rules (Dejchai, 2019). When the defendant effectively balances the probability that they lie within the insanity test, then the Crown Court will argue that they are not guilty because of insanity, also referred to as “special verdict.”
On the defense of automatism, it comes to play when the accused person lacked control of their actions and body when they were involved in committing a crime (Dejchai, 2019). The defense of automatism is available to all forms of crimes. In automatism, the accused need to present enough evidence to ensure that automatism becomes an issue of dispute between the prosecution and defense.
Deficiencies law handling defendants unable to understand or control their criminal conduct
The law has technicalities and weaknesses in addressing the defendant’s issue involved in crime as a result of automatism and insanity, thus requiring effective reform to streamline the operation of the law. In this regard, there are legal technicalities that affect the application of the unfitness to plead aspect. There is the question of whether a person is unfit to take a plea and stand trial will come when the accused is entering a plea to take charge of guilty or not, if not before (Rix, 2016). In order to be fit to take a plea and stand trial, the suspect must be capable of doing certain things such as instructing a lawyer to handle their case or follow trial proceedings. However, the challenge arises in that the legal test adopted in evaluating the accused’s fitness does not cover all the right abilities. The legal test sets the fitness threshold too high. The law does not prescribe the procedure nor the process to be adopted to evaluate and assess the accused’s fitness to stand trial. In this case, the current law’s effect is to limit the number of people found unfit to take a plea, meaning that many people are tried when their state of mind is not fit for standing trial or taking a plea. Therefore, there is a need to adopt reforms by setting parameters and processes to be adopted to test a person’s fitness to take a plea or stand trial. This approach would ensure an increase in the number of persons with grave mental disorders found not fit to stand trial and a decreasing number of people relying on reformed insanity defense for their crimes.
The law presents difficulties in defining the real meaning of “disease of the mind” regarding if it’s a disease or a disorder and that the word mind is not interpreted to mean the brain, thus confusing in determining the insanity defense. The M’Naghten test argues that the accused must be suffering from a defect of reason from the mind’s disease. The judges expound the phrase further to interpret the mind’s disease to be an impairment of mental functioning resulting from medical conditioning (Rix, 2016). In this case, the disorder is necessarily not a disease, and the word mind is not interpreted to mean the brain. The law has not limited the idea of disease of the mind to mental disorders; instead, the law has classified the lack of control caused by either the internal or external factors. The involuntary conduct caused by the internal factors is regarded as insanity and leads to a special verdict. On the other hand, involuntary conduct arising from external factors is regarded as automatism, and they amount to a simple acquittal. In this case, the law drawing a line between insanity and automatism introduces an anomaly since there is difficult to differentiate between internal (insanity) and external (automatism). There is confusion in applying the law, and thus the reform, in this case, should classify conditions that will be termed as either insanity or automatism to make it easy for judges to make decisions.
The M’Naghten law is in contradiction with the medical understanding. For instance, the terms “disease of the mind” and insanity are not legal terms but outdated legal; terms. Moreover, the term insanity is stigmatizing and inaccurate in reference to the defendant, thus putting off many people who would successfully win their cases through the insanity defense (Farrell, 2016). The “M’Naghten Rules” need to be interpreted with the help of medical practitioners or professionals to determine the severity of the defendant condition at the time they committed the offense and they type of condition they suffered to ensure that the law is effectively applied in the interest of common good for the defendant and the victims. On the other hand, the law needs to use socially acceptable and politically correct terms in reference to insanity and automatism to eliminate the stigma associated with insanity among the people. This approaches that the people will argue their cases on the doctrines of “M’Naghten Rules” to effectively defend their case.
Analysis, evaluation and application of legal theory
The insanity and automatism legal theories form the defense foundation in cases where the defendant committed crimes due to different internal and external factors. The application of the legal theory, in this case, can be evaluated from the evaluation of different case laws argued and decided using the “M’Naghten Rules.” It is vital to note that the disease of mind determination is more of a legal question as opposed to being a medical condition (Mackay, 2020). The legal question means that the insanity and automatism defenses are made based on the ordinary rules’ interpretation. In this case, any disease or condition that affects the body’s normal functioning and the mind is referred to as a disease of the mind; it does not have to be necessarily the disease affecting the brain. This approach makes the term disease of the mind to cover a wide range of conditions.
Numerous court cases can be evaluated and accessed to show the application of the insanity and automatism defenses. In this case, in the case of R v Burgess in 1991, Burgess attacked his friend Katrina while he was sleepwalking (statute). Burgess hit Katrina with a bottle and then picked up the video recorder and hit her head (Federman, 2013). In this case, the Crown Court argued that Burgess was innocent for the assault accusation because of insanity. The court ordered that Burges be detained in a psychiatrist hospital. The judge argued that sleeping was normal, but sleepwalking and causing violence while it was not normal. Therefore, Burgess causes a crime due to internal factors without his knowledge, and he was out of control of his actions; thus, the court found her not guilty but recommended psychiatric care to prevent such occurrences from occurring in the future. Additionally, under the British House of Lord, the case of R v Sullivan shows the application of the M’Naghten rule. In this case, Sullivan, the defendant, had an epileptic patient since his childhood was involved in hitting his friend during an epileptic seizure episode (Bird New, 2009). Upon recovery, the defendant could only recall that he was standing at a window with the victim lying on the floor with head injuries. The defendant was charged with assault, where the judge ruled in favor of the defendant, citing the incident occurred due to a disease of mind suffered from a post-epileptic seizure. Therefore, in both cases, the judge ruled in favor of the defendant by evaluating the causes of the purported violation of laws, thus establishing the violation due to the internal factors beyond the control of the defendants since they were related to the disease of the mind.
Logical and coherent argument handling cases where defendants unable to understand or control their criminal conduct
The M’Naghten rules provide insanity as criminal defense, but the success of the defendant is dependent on their ability and capability to prove the different aspects of the rule that include disease of the mind, defect of reason and the unawareness that their acts were wrong (Berman, 2016). The M’Naghten rules are driven towards ensuring that persons who find themselves in violation of different laws and rules due to their internal conditions or circumstances out of their control are protected from being found guilty. Thus, they are prescribed as not guilty despite their involvement in a crime.
The disease of mind entails the differences existing between being legal and medically insane. The court decision on insanity is made under the law and its interpretation, evidence and procedure (Mackay, 2020). In this case, any disease or condition that negatively affects the mind’s function is considered in cases as a contributing factor to one engaging in a crime. In the case of R v Hennessy, the defendant was accused of taking a vehicle without the owner’s consent. The defendant suffered from diabetes and had not taken insulin for three days, affecting his state of mind. The judge ruled that the condition disrupted the defendant’s mind; thus, he was sane and found not guilty.
The defect of reason element means that the defendant’s disease of mind must cause the defect of reason such that they cannot tell what they are doing in terms of nature and quality. In this case, the defendant loses their power of reasoning objectively, thus leading them to violate the law.
Lastly, the defendant or the accused must lack the knowledge that their acts are legally wrong. The fact that the defendants are unaware that their acts contradict the law makes them violate unknowingly (Loughnan and Ward, 2014). For instance, the case of T v Windle of 1952 was defense based on insanity was dismissed, for he knew his actions were wrong. The defendant suffered from mental illness but knowingly gave his wife a fatal dose of aspirin. The insanity defense was not accepted since there was no evidence and that the defendant knew that what he was doing was wrong.
The act of not criminalizing the conduct of defendants that cannot control or understand their acts of violating the law is addressed under the M’Naghten rules to ensure that such persons are protected from the law. In this regard, their defense is founded on insanity and automatism since it would be legally wrong to convict such individuals. Instead, the court finds alternative measures of handling them, such as recommending them to mental hospitals or psychiatric care. Additionally, the burden of proving insanity is left to the defendant where their case is dismissed when they prove the defense of insanity by showing a disease of the mind, defect of reason, and lack of knowledge of their acts’ illegality.
There is no purpose to be served by criminalizing conduct that a defendant does not understand or cannot control.