Is mental health an excuse?

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Is mental health an excuse?

Post by Cathulhu » Fri Aug 12, 2011 4:19 pm

Having read David's recent abuse of Wes, who has not earned it, I have to ask this of the sharp legal minds here (that leaves you out, Delusional David). Why is insanity considered a defense for awful acts? If I have a rabid animal, I put the poor thing out of its' misery. I have been unkind to David because I hate people who abuse others, and he has a conviction for abusing his own mother. And, no, I most emphatically would not sit down to coffee with him, and do not share the opinion of his harmlessness. He's hurt others before, and I judge people on actions.

So, 'splain this one to me--even as a former mental health professional, back in the misspent youth of being a social worker, I still just don't get it. I think there are some actions so terrible that no excuses should be allowed.
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Re: Is mental health an excuse?

Post by The Observer » Fri Aug 12, 2011 5:35 pm

Unfortunately you have a misconception about David. He was never convicted for physical abuse of his mother. He faced charges for such a crime, but the charges were eventually dropped. Of course David will be happy to provide you with his explanation of how he won, but I would recommend taking that story with a large grain of salt.

To answer your other question, not from a legal professional background, but my own just plain observation: We don't "excuse" people based on mental health issues as a rule. Yes, they may not be held legally responsible for their actions, but typically they do end up being committed to a mental facility for treatment so that they cannot continue being a harm to themselves and others. And some would argue that this, in of itself, is punishment.
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Re: Is mental health an excuse?

Post by Judge Roy Bean » Fri Aug 12, 2011 7:10 pm

IMHO it is not a "defense" so much as it is a plea for special consideration in sentencing.
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Re: Is mental health an excuse?

Post by Arthur Rubin » Sat Aug 13, 2011 12:21 am

I am not a lawyer, but....

My recollection are that there are a few different provisions in which mental illness prevents prosecution of crimes.

If the defendant is, because of mental illness, unable to participate in his defense, he's locked up until he is so able.

If the defendant, because of mental illness, lacks the capability to have the mens rea (or specific intent) to commit the crime, and that intent is an element of the crime, then he would technically be found not guilty. However, he would be locked up as a danger to others until such time as he would be able not to commit the crime.

I recall a fictional legal system, in Larry Niven's Known Space series, in which the question of whether the insanity was voluntary was what was important. If a person committed a crime because of previously undiagnosed insanity, and was then cured, there would be no penalty. On the other hand, if a person voluntarily became insane (a real example would be refusing to take his medication), then he would be found guilty even if he did not have the mental capacity at the time of the crime. It seems more fair, that way....
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Re: Is mental health an excuse?

Post by Famspear » Sun Oct 16, 2011 3:42 am

See Arthur Rubin's explanation above.

Many crimes have a mens rea or "guilty mind" element that must be proven -- just as the guilty conduct (whether an affirmative act or a failure to act) must be proven. Some crimes also have a third category of element that must be proven: the "attendant circumstance" element.

One example of a formulation of the rule, as stated in the Model Penal Code published by the American Law Institute, and as adopted as the law in some jurisdictions, is:
A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality (wrongfulness) of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.
--as quoted in Black's Law Dictionary, p. 714 (5th ed. 1979).
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