Research suggests that Crime and mental illness unfortunately go hand in hand. Records also show that many criminals usually have some sort of mental illness due which they end up facing repercussions from the criminal justice system at any one or multiple points in their life. However, the offences may not always be violent crimes.
When it comes to criminal activities, many people try to avoid punishment by opting for the ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ clause. This, however, causes difficulties for the court and requires psychological testing to proof the plea. It is then determined after the testing, whether a person should be admitted to a mental hospital or sentenced to jail.
Nevertheless, many people are of the opinion that similar laws should be made for both, the mentally ill as well as regular criminals. Hence, if a mentally ill person reacts violently towards an individual, their sentence time should be the same as any other person convicted of such a felony.
Insanity Defence Plea
The fitness of a person matters greatly when they stand for trial. If the mental state of the defendant is such that they cannot even be considered ‘fit to stand trial’ and cannot even understand the consequences of their actions, nature, and aim of the punishment; they will be considered unfit for the proceedings and the trial will not take place. In such situations, the court hires psychiatrists and psychologists who submit the report regarding the defendant’s mental condition.
An unhealthy mental state will result in the suspension of all the legal proceedings and will lead to admittance of the individual into a psychiatric hospital. The hospital is chosen, depending on the severity of the crime, and a treatment can also be planned and initiated if the person is willing to improve their mental state. At some mental health centres, annual tests are done to determine the level of fitness of the patient and once the person is healthy, they are made to stand trial and the court then determines whether they are still a danger to any individual any more.
On the whole, there has been a change in how the court deals with such crimes and criminals. Any crime that is now committed is linked with a psychotic disorder to make a connection if one is present. If no connection is found, then such individuals are considered as criminals and are either brought into custody or hospitalized, if they are not put behind bars.
Insanity defence has been a part of the law for a long time. However, it does not reduce the severity of the crime and the person concerned is punished nonetheless. Being ‘guilty but mentally ill’ does not safeguard any person from punishment. They will simply be kept under surveillance within a hospital or mental institute rather than being sent to jail. The purpose however, remains the same, that is, to keep the public safe and to stop the behaviour from happening again.
This difference in terms of punishment is due to criminal responsibility, which is the mental state of the defendant at the time of offence. If a person was suffering from a mental disorder when the crime was committed, they are not criminally responsible for it. The reason behind this is their inability to make intellectual decisions and not knowing the consequences of their actions.
Many crimes are also committed when the person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs; however, as the intake of these substances is under their control, such crimes as charged just as severely as others that are performed consciously. In addition to that, if the drugs that are being used are illegal or the country they live in, doesn’t permit alcohol consumption, then they have to face a double penalty for their actions.
Hence, the insanity defence plea is applicable, only if poor mental health is proven.