Monday, October 24, 2005

The Insanity Defense

This AP story posted on CNN explains how unusual it is to mount a successful insanity defense. They discuss the difficult it will be for the woman who is charged with murdering her three children by throwin them off the pier in San Francisco, despite her diagnosis as a schizophrenic. It is a big myth in the public that people can commit a heinous crime and just, "get off" by claiming insanity. In reality, very few cases even involve an insanity defense, and most of those cases result in convictions. I had the interesting experience of sitting second chair in an insanity case. Our client had shot, but not killed, both his parents. He suffered from schizophrenia and believed that he was in a Matrix-like computer program where he was commanded to shoot them. On the videotape of his interrogation, he kept telling the officer that everything would be reset, and that no one could feel pain except for him. The tough part in our case was that our client had no documented psychiatric history. He had a wealth of odd behavior, but no one in his family had ever taken him to see a psychiatrist. So, we had to overcome the idea that he had made up the "crazy" act to get away with his crime. In the end, though, the jury truly relied on the videotape and the reports from the many psychiatrists who treated him at the state mental hospital while he was incompetent. Of course, in our case, we also didn't have any dead victims, which makes things even harder.

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