Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Insanity Defense

It's important to know the various tests used to determine a defendant's sanity, because the MBE can ask you to apply any of them to a given fact pattern. Though similar, each has its own distinctions.

A majority of jurisdictions follow the M'Naghten test. Under this test, a defendant will be relieved from criminal liability upon proof that at the time of the commission of the criminal act, a disease of the mind prevented him from knowing the nature and quality of the act, or if he did know the nature and quality of the act, the disease of the mind prevented him from knowing that the act was wrong.

As with the M'Naghten test, the Irresistible Impulse test also requires a disease of the mind. The distinction to note is that under this test, a defendant will be relieved of liability if the disease prevented him from controlling his conduct. Note that under this test, it's irrelevant if defendant understood the nature of his act, or if he understood that his act was wrong. Even if he understood such things, liability will be relieved if defendant, knowing that what he was doing was wrong, could not prevent himself from doing it.

The Durham test is quite broad and merely states that defendant is not criminally liable if his unlawful act was the product of a mental disease or defect. The proper test to apply here is a "but for" test; namely, a crime is a product of a mental disease or defect if the crime would not have been committed but for the disease or the defect.

Finally, there is a test from the Model Penal Code. This test shows up more often than the others, though for this test to apply, the fact pattern will have to advise you to apply the Model Penal Code. Under this test, a person is not responsible for criminal conduct, if, at the time of the act, as a result of a mental disease or defect, the person lacked substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of the act, or lacked the ability to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Essentially, the test required under the Model Penal Code allows for a defense of insanity if either the M'Naghten test, or the Irresistible Impulse test would have been satisfied.




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