Mind Over Matter

What is the difference between mental illness and insanity? (Hint: What is the important second prong of the McNaughten rule?)

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The difference between mental illness and insanity seems to center on the ability to distinguish between right and wrong (Gibeaut, 2006). Furthermore, a plea of incompetent to stand trial includes the requirement that a defendant, “…appreciate the nature of the charge, be able to assist in his or her defense and behave appropriately in court” (Gibeaut, 2006, p.5). Since the incompetent to stand trial plea is a lesser standard than insanity, the requirements of the competent to stand trial plea are a necessary requirement for the insanity plea. Lastly, the judge did not feel that Clark’s mental illness distorted his reality sufficient enough that he did not know the difference between right and wrong.

The McNaughten rule cannot be used to defend the actions of a person who drinks alcohol then murders someone. Why not?

The rule cannot be used in cases of alcohol because the intoxication was voluntary; whereas, Clark’s schizophrenia was involuntary. Likewise, because intoxication is voluntary the person is responsible for their actions while intoxicated even if they are not aware of their actions.

Identify each of the following:

  • Rational and guilty
  • Guilty but insane
  • Not guilty by reason of insanity

Both the rational and guilty (RG) and the guilty but insane verdicts (GI) include punishment and/or treatment. On the other hand, not guilty by reason of insanity (NGI) means that the defendant does not receive punishment and/or treatment. In the case of Clark, he wants an NGI verdict instead of a GI verdict. This is because he believes that men’s rea cannot be established because he thought the police officer was an alien; thereby, negating the defense’s claim of criminal intent as part of the 1st-degree murder charge. Furthermore, a GI verdict usually entails psychological therapy; where RG commonly includes jail time.

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If you were deciding this case, how would you rule? Briefly explain your decision.

There is a criminal deterrent factor implicit in an RG verdict. I think that NGI verdicts should only be reserved for cases of people who are observed to be completely out of their minds at least once a week or for more than a week per month. Furthermore, the NGI verdict should only be used in conjunction with an RG charge for those that are responsible. Now in the case of this man, I think he should be tried as a sane person and sentenced to real jail time, or at the very least try the man under a GI plea and the parents under involuntary manslaughter (or a lesser charge). I know that this verdict is harsh (and probably not the one that the text intended for us to come to), but precedence of criminal deterrent must be established or anyone will be able to take the insanity plea. When someone purposefully kills another person for any reason, other than actual self-defense, someone is at fault. If the person is clinically insane, then it is those that care for them that are responsible.


Gibeaut, J. (2006). A matter over mind. ABA Journal, 92(4), 32-39. Retrieved September 3, 2008, from EBSCOhost database.

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