Abolish The Insanity Defense?

Is rejecting the insanity defense sane?

Sep 27, 2019

Psychology Today – The insanity defense is going to the Supreme Court.

First Monday in October—the traditional opening of the Supreme Court term—is coming up and the first case the Court will hear is a challenge to the legitimacy of the insanity defense.

The state legislature of Kansas decided that the insanity defense is not real. It is eyewash, b.s., a trick.

Most states disagree, accepting the more common view that the insanity defense is legitimate. (Though Alaska, Idaho, Montana, and Utah take Kansas’ side of the debate.)

The question in front of the Court is whether a state can define its own reality within its borders or whether it must defer to the national standard backed by other state legislatures and experts.

Kahler v. Kansas

James Kahler killed his estranged wife, two daughters, and mother-in-law on Thanksgiving weekend of 2009. These facts are not disputed. But whether Kahler was sane when he did it is another story.

Kahler alleges that the state’s abolition of the insanity defense in 1995 was a knee-jerk reaction to a few high-profile insanity acquittals, especially the John Hinckley trial.

After the attempted assassination of President Reagan in 1981, Hinckley was found not guilty by reason of insanity and confined in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.

He was allowed to make extended visits to his parents’ home beginning in 2007 and was released in 2016.

One commentator on the insanity defense described the Hinckley trial as “everything that is imperfect about the insanity defense: the undue power of forensic psychiatrists, the blurred lines of sanity, and the sensationalistic portrayals of what it means to be legally insane.”

Whether Hinckley or Kahler are legally culpable depends on the standard we apply: intent, moral knowledge, or control.

The oldest (and most stringent) standard is mens rea (“guilty mind”): is a person aware of what they are doing and intend to do it? … Read more.