Insanity Defense: An Excuse or Is It True?


The concept of responsibility connects with our most fundamental convictions about human nature, dignity and everyday experiences of guilt, innocence, blame, and punishment. Punishing a person who is not responsible for a crime is a violation of basic human rights and fundamental rights under the Constitution of India. It brings the due process of law if the individual is not in a position to defend themself in court, evoking the principle of natural justice. The affirmative defence of legal insanity applies to this fundamental principle by excusing mentally disordered offenders whose state of mind deprived them of a rational understanding of their conduct at the time of the crime. Insanity Defense or Plea is a tool that helps a person with an unsound mind during a criminal trial. This legal concept is based on the assumption that if an individual who is mentally ill commits a crime and on reasonable grounds is believed to be unsound and lacks knowledge about the consequences of their action, he or she can plead insanity as a defence in court. A severely mentally disordered person is one who suffers from mental illnesses or disorders due to various psychological factors such as anxiety and depression or suffers from mental illnesses from an early age. However, it is vital to remember that mental disorders alone are not reason enough to prove insanity. The burden of proving insanity lies on the individual who claims the perpetrator to be insane. That individual has to then produce bona fide evidence claiming them to be unstable. The insanity defence is a defence wherein criminals admit their crimes, but use the lack of knowledge due to mental illnesses or disorder as a shield during trials.

The Origins Of Insanity Despite being in existence for some time now, the insanity defence has only taken a legal position over the last three decades. It was in 1851 that a provision regarding the insanity defence came into the eyes of the English Legal System. There were three tests that laid the foundation for the landmark M'naghten Rule. These 3 tests were namely,

The Wild Beast

The Insane Delusion Test and;

Test of Capacity to Distinguish between Just and Unjust. This rule became a legendary precedent for the law which is also applicable in the Indian Legal System and comes under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

There were 5 propositions in M'naghten Rule: There is a presumption that the accused at the time of committing the offence has the proper knowledge and hence would be held responsible for his or her actions.

At the time of the commission of an offence, a person with an unsound mind would be liable if they have knowledge of their actions.

To plead the defence of insanity, the accused at the time of commission should not be in a position to know the nature and consequences of their actions.

The illness or disorder of the accused should be real and;

The English Law would be held responsible and decide whether a person is insane or not.

Insanity Defense comes under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 under, “Act of the person of unsound mind which states that nothing is an offence if it is done by a person who, at the time of commission, because of unsoundness of mind, was incapable of understanding the nature and consequences of the act he/she is doing and also was unaware that the same is prohibited by law. Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code is based upon 2 fundamental principles: “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea which means an act does not seem to be guilty if it is not done with guilty intention or motive

Furiosi nulla voluntas est which means a person with mental illnesses has no free will.

Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 has the following essentials which can be divided into 2 broad categories: MAJOR CRITERIA: It consists of medical and mental requirements of a person who is ill. This means a person should be suffering from some mental illness or disorder at the time of the crime.

MINOR CRITERIA: It consists of the loss of knowledge that an individual is incapable of knowing at the time of the crime, wrongful acts, and that his or her actions are contrary to the law. Types of Insanity In a layman’s view, there are 2 broad categories of insanity which are: TEMPORARY INSANITY: It is the type of insanity where a person suffers from specific mental disorders or illnesses for a certain amount of time due to various reasons such as anxiety, depression, stress, or any other psychological factors for. The person suffering from temporary insanity can have 2 possible reasons as a plea; Either he or she is not guilty because of the insanity or guilty but cannot be tried because of the insanity. PERMANENT INSANITY: It is a form of insanity where a person suffers from continuous mental disorders or illnesses either from the time of the birth of any record, if. Here, the individual is incapable of knowing their consequences, especially because recovering from permanent insanity is a very rare case.

Insanity as a Double Edged Sword Like a double-edged sword cuts in both ways, insanity in this judicial system also has two implications.

1. Insanity as a Positive Aspect It establishes guilt: When a person is tried in court, he or she pleads guilty and uses insanity as a defence. The ill person is not tried harshly for the commission of the offence but is kept off the roads to avoid future commission because of not being able to distinguish between right and wrong. It does not allow harsh punishments: A person tried in court for an offence is not punished with the death penalty or any harsh or rigorous imprisonment. If the person needs to be punished, he or she is prescribed to very lenient punishment. This is because the individual fails to understand the gravity of their actions or is lacking knowledge regarding the consequences.

2. Insanity as A Negative Aspect

It is a loophole for criminals: An accused, whether sane or insane, tends to misuse Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 and try to escape from punishment. They use insanity as a false ground on the pretext of defence. Criminals use it as a loophole to escape punishment in order to not get convicted during trials. The plea can be abused by a sane person. Though guaranteed as a privileged defence by the judicial system, many people take undue advantage and abuse this privileged defence. The burden of proof lies on the insane person: A person in the eyes of the law has to prove their insanity by producing evidence that establishes them insane. This process consumes a lot of time and proves to be very costly for the accused. Along with the cost of court proceedings, he or she has to bear the medical cost of the examination as well. The burden to prove them to be suffering from mental illnesses or disorders lies in themselves. To establish medical records of someone with an unsound mind would take time and, hence it would delay justice. In case the person is sane and abuses the defence of insanity he or she would be set free for the time being. However, because one is not aware of his or her intentions or motives, this can be very risky.

Medical VS Legal Insanity

Under Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 their test prescribed the mental illness of an individual, but there is no absolute test laying down provisions for the term’s insanity and unsoundness of mind. A person who suffers from mental illnesses is not always exempted from the punishment as there is a difference between legal insanity and medical insanity. An individual who suffers from a mental illness is known as medical insanity and the person who suffers from a mental illness and incapable of knowing the difference between right and wrong at the time of the commission of a crime is known as Legal Insanity. In the case of legal insanity, psychiatrists do not deal with them; these people are dealt with in courts. “In the case of BAPU GAJRAJ SINGH V/S STATE OF RAJASTHAN ON 4TH JUNE, 2007 the apex court held that there is abnormal behaviour by the appellant which requires medical treatment and the individual needs to be treated in a good mental hospital. This does not attract Section 84 of Indian Penal Code, 1860 and is a case of Medical Insanity”. “In the case of SURENDRA MISHRA V/S STATE OF JHARKHAND ON 6TH JANUARY,2011 the apex court held that the appellant was suffering from Schizophrenia and not of unsoundness of mind at the time of the commission of a crime. There the person is not exempted from criminal liability as he was suffering from Legal Insanity and attracts the provisions of Section 84 of Indian Penal Code, 1860”. Role of Psychiatrists

A standard evaluation procedure of all patients who plead the insanity defence is necessary. It is unfortunate that to date, no such standardized procedures exist in our country. Psychiatrists are often called for conducting mental health evaluations and treatment. Apart from treatment, courts may also request for various certifications. This includes: Certifying the presence or absence of psychiatric illness if the defendant claims for an insanity plea (defendant's mental status when the alleged offence took place); Assessment of fitness to stand trial in cases where mental illness incapacitates cognitive, emotional, and behavioural faculties of an individual causing serious impact on the ability to defend the case (defendant's present mental status and his competence during adjudication). Psychiatrists should consider inpatient admission for a comprehensive evaluation of the defendant. In addition, psychiatrists must educate the court, clarify psychiatric issues, provide honest and objective opinions based on factual data and sound reasoning. Conclusion There is a need to distinguish medical insanity from legal insanity to avoid future conflicts and confusion. Criminal laws are based on the concept that criminals commit a crime within their intention and not under any influence, threat, or coercion and hence should be held guilty and be punished for the same. Two elements have to be proved without leaving any grounds for doubt which are: 1. ACTUS REUS: It means the person who commits the crime

2. MENS REA: ``It means the person who commits the crime does it with his own intention and knowledge”.

Here, a person committing the crime does not constitute Mens Rea and lacks the proper knowledge and is incapable of distinguishing between what is right and wrong. Psychiatrists may be asked to assist the court in determining whether certain mental disorders affect a person's ability to form the intent necessary to make that person legally culpable. The medical discipline describes the patient's mental status on a continuum that ranges from extremely ill to completely healthy. However, the legal language is categorical, either criminally responsible or not responsible.

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