Mental Competency: Insanity in Criminal Court Cases

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Generally, mental competency may refer to the capacity to comprehend the nature as well as the activity in which a person is involved. Contrarily, incompetency may refer to the loss of this capacity to make and as well act as a person, basing these on your personal decisions. The elementary factors of mental competency rely on a person’s familiarity with the kind of their situation, factual comprehension f the concerns in question as well the capability to internalize facts rationally to arrive at a decision (Gudjonsson, 2010). Competency concerns may emerge at diverse points along with the court case proceedings. There may arise issues regarding the competency of a person to represent themselves, to plea, to get sentenced the competency as well to get executed. Whenever any client during the criminal proceedings is believed not to be capable of depicting rational as well as factual comprehension of the charges and the legal procedure, or incapable of communicating with the jury, the person might get tested for competence to face trial.

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An instance where mental competency is depicted is when the attorney requests a mental competency hearing. This is particularly when they have a conviction that the suspect never understands the juvenile court procedure. Alternatively, issues of mental competency may arise when the criminal suspect seems incapable of helping the attorney with the defense. It should be recognized that mental competency never pertains to how smart an individual is. Several juveniles are grossly incompetent since they are still young. Alternatively, they might also be mentally incompetent because they have never learned about the legal system as well as their constitutional liberties in school (O’Donnell & Gross, 2012). Thus, from this example, it can be legally deduced that any incompetent child can never be passed on judicially of commission of a crime. It is also clear that whenever a juvenile is incapable of understanding the juvenile court procedure and incompetent to assist the jury with their case, the charges must be dismissed forthwith.

There are several instances in which serious criminal offenses have been attributed to the insanity of the perpetrators. The definition of insanity is seen to be largely variable within diverse legal systems or entities. This instance can be drawn from the federal insanity definition as well as the “American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code Insanity definition.” In the federal definition, “ at the instance of commission of the heinous acts leading to the offense, the defendant, as a result of severe psychological complication or defect, was incapable to appreciate the nature and quality or wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.” This is the legal statement as quoted from the US Code, Title 18 (Blumenthal, 2012). Therefore, the challenge lies with the forensic psychologists’ abilities to rationally conduct an appropriate mental health examination of the clients. Proper advice to the attorney on one’s mental health condition at the time of the crime committed is necessary to come to such weighty decisions.

The American a Law Institute defines insanity that – ‘an individual is never 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 of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” from these two definitions, it can be observed that it is not always that those who conduct the heinous criminal offenses are not insane. On approval of the mental health stability of the potential offenders, a rational-legal decision has to be drawn by the attorney after appropriate advice is received from the forensic psychologist (Blumenthal, 2012). A close look into Andrea Yates’ case reveals similar implications of the definition of insanity by the American legal system as well as other law enforcement agencies. After the cold-blood murder of her five children consecutively, Andrea Yates was sentenced to five counts of murder in the state penitentiary (Turley, 2008).

It is observed that during her cross-examination, some elements of mental disorder are noticed by her psychiatrist. Her psychiatrist had helped her earlier in medications to avert the mental complications she had earlier own suffered. However, it is noticed that during the period of serving her sentence, there is an appeal by the same psychiatrist demanding that Andrea Yates be done for a psychological evaluation to determine her sanity (Turley, 2008). The criminal is declared insane during the time of her omission of the five counts of murder and is referred to the mental health facility for reconstruction or rehabilitation. From this instance, it can be seen how the definition of insanity greatly influenced the court case.

The second instance provided in the case study depicts how legal definitions also influence or manipulate the case outcomes. Jeffrey Dahmer’s shocking murder offenses are crowned by the fact, as he argues in court, not guilty for the reasons of insanity during the time of the commission of the offenses. The mental health professionals are seen to be engaged in a sincere battle to ascertain the sanity of Jeffrey Dahmer during the time he committed all these murders. It is stated that Jeffrey Dahmer during his case proceedings, decided to “plead not guilty because of insanity.” consequently, it can also be noticed that he undergoes a formal evaluation by the mental health professionals during his court case proceedings. However, the evaluation process reveals the instances of drug and substance abuse. It is observed that the criminal is found guilty and sentenced appropriately after the discovery of his sexual sadist nature or character. It is alleged that because of his character as a sexual sadist, the criminal could not stop the pressure to commit the crimes he was charged with (Blumenthal, 2012).

Jeffrey Dahmer is seen to plead not guilty on account of insanity during the time he committed the crimes. However, it is notable that upon formal mental evaluation, the criminal is rendered not to be insane. The legal system as well as other mental health professionals within the legal system ought to take great precautions during their practice to rationally investigate and examine such cases or criminals (Blumenthal, 2012). It is clear from this last instance that whereas certain legal definitions might appropriately guide the course or outcome of a criminal case, others might also use these definitions as weak or camouflage points to escape from their capital offenses. In the case of Andrea Yates, the due process of law and the legal definitions seems to have appropriately guided the case.

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Blumenthal, S. (2012). Of Mandarins, Legal Consciousness, and the Cultural Turn in US Legal History: Robert W. Gordon. 1984. Critical Legal Histories. Stanford Law Review, vol. 36:57–125.

Gudjonsson, G. (2010). Psychological vulnerabilities during police interviews. Why are they important? Legal and Criminological Psychology, vol. 15: 161–175.

O’Donnell, P. & Gross, B. (2012). Developmental Incompetence to Stand Trial in Juvenile Courts. Journal of Forensic Sciences, vol.10: 11-15.

Turley, J. (2008). The Insanity Defense and the Limits of Legal Reason. Web.