I have always had a major problem with Psychiatry's role in determining the degree of guilt or innocence in criminal cases. The original McNaughton rule was established in 1843:
The "McNaughton rule" was a standard to be applied by the jury, after hearing medical testimony from prosecution and defense experts. The rule created a presumption of sanity, unless the defense proved "at the time of committing the act, the accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong."
The McNaughton rule became the standard for insanity in the United States and the United Kingdom, and is still the standard for insanity in almost half of the states.
This offered a fairly clear standard that was rarely met. Even the sickest of Schizophrenics almost always recognizes that certain behavior, especially murder, is wrong under any conditions.
As is their wont, defense attorneys have always tried to stretch the law to fit their agenda of preventing their clients from being found guilty or facing the highest degree of punishment. That is their job and when they do it very well, justice sometimes suffers. In the 1950's, the McNaughton Rule was extended:
Citing leading psychiatrists and jurists of the day, the appellate judge stated that the McNaughton rule was based on "an entirely obsolete and misleading conception of the nature of insanity." He overturned Durham's conviction and established a new rule. The Durham rule states "that an accused is not criminally responsible if his unlawful act was the product of mental disease or mental defect."
The ultimate flowering of such reasoning was the partially successful "Twinkie" defense (1979) by which Dan White's guilt for the murder of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and gay Supervisor Harvey Milk was mitigated. In reality, the contribution of junk food to the defense was minimal; nonetheless, White was found to have had diminished capacity because of his severe depression. Although the Twinkie defense is at best an exaggeration, it has entered the lexicon because of the accurate perception that victimology has become a full time trade, including its application by defense attorneys.
The Insanity defense went through two more iterations:
In 1972, the American Law Institute, a panel of legal experts, developed a new rule for insanity as part of the Model Penal Code. This rule says that a defendant is not responsible for criminal conduct where (s)he, as a result of mental disease or defect, did not possess "substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law."
Finally, we reach the current standard:
In 1984, Congress passed, and President Ronald Reagan signed, the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The federal insanity defense now requires the defendant to prove, by "clear and convincing evidence," that "at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts" (18 U.S.C. § 17). This is generally viewed as a return to the "knowing right from wrong" standard. The Act also contained the Insanity Defense Reform Act of 1984, 18 U.S.C. § 4241, which sets out sentencing and other provisions for dealing with offenders who are or have been suffering from a mental disease or defect.
In reality, it is quite difficult for a defendant to be acquitted by reason of insanity. And several studies have suggested that those who are found "not guilty" by reason of insanity actually spend more time in prison than those who are convicted of the same crime. However, the perception remains that attempts to paint perpetrators as victims in order to mitigate their responsibility for their acts is wide spread and the current spectacle of the death penalty phase of Zacharias Moussaoui's trial is a case in point.
Yesterday, Defense Attorneys brought in Moussaoui's unhappy childhood with his violent father. They mentioned how ill prepared he was for the racism he was to face (though news reports fail to document such terrible racism.) A Psychologist maintains he is a Paranoid Schizophrenic, though nothing in the New York Times article documents any psychotic signs or symptoms in Moussaoui. Michelle Malkin has a more complete report at NO TEARS FOR MOUSSAOUI.
My preference has always been to separate the determination of guilt from that of psychiatric disturbance. In the very rare case where a patient was so distant from reality as to not recognize the difference between right and wrong, the McNaughton Rule, a determination of "Not Guilty by reason of Insanity" makes sense, but in this case, all the evidence suggests Moussaoui knew what he was doing; that if he was delusional, it was the shared delusion of his culture and social networks, and that he knowingly desired, and continues to desire, to kill innocent people in the belief that it will further his well established religious and political goals.
Whether he should be put to death is up to a jury; I doubt they will find the Psychology of Moussaoui to be particularly compelling. However, the attempt to paint him as a victim is noxious and one more reason the criminal courts are not the ideal locale for dealing with terrorists.