I really enjoyed our unit in abnormal psychology. One topic I found especially interesting was the insanity defense. The insanity defense is when someone argues that a crime wasn't committed "of sound mind," and therefore the perpetrator is not responsible for his or her actions. As it was originally defined, someone arguing this defense had to satisfy one of two criteria: 1) The person could not remember doing the crime that took place, or 2) the person must not have been aware that what they were doing was wrong. As time has progressed, however, the guidelines for this defense have become steadily more hazy.
Today, the insanity defense is extremely controversial. Many believe the insanity defense is simply a way for criminals to off scot-free. On the other hand, others argue that a seriously disturbed person truly cannot be responsible for their actions. For example, someone who brutally murders a coworker because they believed their coworker to be Satan could potentially use the insanity defense.
The biggest problem I see with the insanity defense is that it's easy to fake. Someone could easily make up a story that qualifies them to be "insane," even if they weren't actually at the time. However, I don't think that's a reason to discontinue its use. If we want to rehabilitate criminals, sending the mentally disturbed to prison will not prevent them from doing harm again. If anything, it would just make it worse.
A classic case in the insanity defense is that of the Yates Trial. Andrea Yates, a mother of 5, drowned all of her children in a bathtub. This horrific story had the country in an uproar, but Ms. Yates was able to beat the charges on account of severe postpartum depression. This qualified her as not being "of sound mind." Because of the outcome of this case, many have questioned the insanity defense. The heinousness of the crime was too great for some to stomach, and the fact that Yates didn't spend time in jail as a result outraged many.
The jury is still out on the insanity defense. While it makes sense that someone not "of sound mind" should be tried differently than someone who is, the potential for abuse has many questioning its effectiveness. There are currently four states that don't accept it, including Idaho and Utah, but on the whole, courts still take it into consideration.