As individuals we have all heard of the insanity defense. What does it stand for though?
Attempting to defend oneself with an insanity defense is rather lengthy process. Physiatrist must be brought in to evaluate the one trying to use this defense. They must come to the conclusion that the individual is “Criminally insane” through evaluation of the defendant. At the end of evaluation the conclusion must answer questions to the court. A defendant attempting to use the insanity defense in must have not known what they were doing at the time the crime took place. They must also not have a clear understanding of right from wrong, and have a “need” to kill, these characteristics are known as the M’Naghten Rule. Although, some states have modified this such as Colorado, with the M’Naghten Rule and an added impulse test. In the impulse test the defendant must have acted on impulse and had some sort of mental defect that time making them unable to distinguish right from wrong.
A case that occurred two years ago caught my attention with the insanity plea from just doing some research over Oklahoma.
It was the Colorado case of James Holmes. James Holmes is a person who entered a theater in Colorado with a gun, shooting at random. In his act the death’s stood at a 12 body count, the wounded stood at 70. Prosecution and defense are arguing over if he is insane or not. This will determine if he lives or dies, Colorado won’t allow a mentally insane individual to be punished by death.
Oklahoma also has a case involving a man who shot an individual, but his wasn’t based on impulse. Timothy Slawson was charged with first degree murder, but used the insanity defense. Claiming that he has the urge to kill. He is no stranger to murder he first started with animals, but animals were no longer fulfilling his “need”. Slawson acted upon his want for murder of another individual by hiring a prostitute for a night with the intent to stab her. However, the woman brought along friends causing Slawson to return home for a moment, and go back to the meeting place with a gun. Further details and acts in this crime were very disturbing. He has used the defense of insanity claiming to have a need to “hurt people”, even asking for counseling while incarcerated.
In the case of James Holmes, I can see the insanity defense standing, with Colorado’s law of acting upon impulse. In the way it was depicted in the articles Holmes just entered and started shooting. There is not really any knowledge of premeditation. However, in the case of Slawson, there is so much planning involved, he may be insane but he planned his acts out. From the moment he decided to hire a prostitute and take her life. He even admitted that he had planned it out. He acted with premeditation of his crime of murder and therefore should be charged as everyone else. I personally think that he is using the insanity defense to try and reduce his sentence, because that is aloud. His acts were very repulsive and well thought out. If he is insane, and has the need to hurt others then he should never be released back into society, and receive treatment for his mental illness. There is a fine line in the insanity defense and it causes a lot of controversy. There are some out there who just really are insane and need mental treatment. Then you have those out there that are just monsters and deserve to be behind bars. Determining that in cases like James Holmes’s are hard there is no doubt that he committed murder but why? With Timothy Slawson, it is clear he is wanted to kill, and pre-planned this his reason is he “wants to hurt others”. He may be insane but only to an extent, I think he knew right from wrong and should not be able to plea insanity.
State rules on insanity plea: