Guide Plea of Insanity

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She systematically drowned her five children in the bathtub after her husband left for work. In , her conviction was overturned, and a new trial was ordered. Yates was retried in and found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. Yates had a long medical history of suffering from severe postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. After giving birth to each of her children, she displayed extreme psychotic behavior that included hallucinations, attempted suicides, self-mutilation, and an irresistible impulse to hurt the children.

She had been in and out of mental institutions over the years. Just weeks before the murders, Yates was released from a mental hospital because her insurance stopped paying.

She was told by her psychiatrist to think happy thoughts. Despite warnings from her doctors, she was left alone with the children. This was one of the cases when the plea, innocent by reason of insanity, was justified. Mary Winkler, 32, was charged with the first-degree murder on March 22, , for the shotgun shooting death of her husband, Matthew Winkler.

We Asked Three Experts to Discuss the Role of Criminal Intent and Insanity in Our Legal System

He had been shot in the back. A jury convicted Mary Winkler of voluntary manslaughter after hearing testimony that she was physically and mentally abused by her husband. She was sentenced to days and was free after 67 days, most of which was served in a mental facility. From a psychiatric perspective, depression can be a debilitating condition and it can lead to disorganisation of thought and irrational thinking. From a legal perspective, it doesn't seem to meet the legal test for mental impairment. In her paper Depressed but not legally impaired Wondemaghan explores this distinction between psychotic disorders and symptoms of depression, and examines how these illnesses are viewed differently in the legal system— despite the fact that both are known to cause mental impairment.

The criminologist uses the case of Donna Fitchett to explore how depression influences guilt through the eyes of the law. As a nurse, Fitchett was able to obtain benzodiazepine sleeping pills to drug both her children. The prosecution used the premeditated nature of the killings as evidence to argue spousal revenge—that Fitchett killed her sons to punish her husband for their unsatisfactory marriage—and that she should therefore be found guilty on two counts of murder. So it's very problematic to use it to satisfy the criteria of the defence.

Insanity defense - Wikipedia

Listen: Intellectually impaired behind bars. Here, Wondemaghan raises an important point.

Does Pleading Insanity Work?

Gary Banks, a clinical psychologist and member of the Australian Academy of Forensic Sciences, also faces contrasting paradigms when working in courts and the mental health system. Banks provides clinical evaluations to assess if alleged offenders with possible mental impairment are fit to stand trial. Banks has found that the law treats his clinical assessments and its tests of moral reasoning too differently to achieve an accurate overall picture.

My argument and that of my colleague [is] that we, as clinicians, can actually provide a more robust assessment for the court that addresses both factors better. Banks has worked on developing an alternative framework for the evaluation of criminal responsibility in defendants with intellectual disabilities and cognitive impairment.

Dr Jacqui Yoxall is a clinical psychologist and academic at Southern Cross University, and has a particular interest in detecting people who fake psychological disorders in the legal system. While Yoxall is forbidden from discussing the strategies people use to successfully feign mental illness for ethical reasons, she explains that most literature tends to focus on people simulating overt symptoms like psychosis or PTSD, rather than more common illnesses like depression.


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At the end of the day, if the defence of mental illness is successful in a legal case, the offender is not necessarily free of the system. Their situation is then reviewed by a tribunal that determines whether the person should be released into the community, and if so under what conditions. If you or somebody you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 Listen to the full episode of All in the Mind to hear more about mental impairment as a defence in the court of law.

You can suffer from a mental illness and still understand right from wrong and the criminal nature of your conduct.

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Mental illnesses do not automatically make you eligible to plead insanity if charged with a crime. A mental disease or defect is not any abnormality in your behavior, mood, or thought that arose because of repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.

6.1 The Insanity Defense

Also, it is not diminished capacity due to drugs or alcohol. Becoming drunk or high is not a basis for pleading insanity. But what is a mental defect or disease? You must show that at the time of the crime, you did not have the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of your conduct. Your mental disease or defect for the purposes of defense must arise to the level of making you unable to recognize your wrongdoing and judge your criminality. This is an incredibly high standard and difficult to support in court. You may have a great deal of evidence that you suffer from a mental illness.

However, it can be difficult to show a judge or jury that you could not understand that what you were doing was a crime.