Guilty or Innocent?

Are insanity defenses frequently used in court? Surprisingly, the answer is no. According to Dr.

Helen Farrell, insanity defenses are used in less than 1% of criminal cases, and only a percentage of those have been successful. Attorneys do not even recommend insanity defenses, even though the perception on television programs is that they are used frequently. Dr. Douglass Mossman, a prominent forensic psychiatrist mentioned that there are “three big hurdles” in a successful insanity defense. First, the mental illness must impair the defendant’s judgment enough to cause one to misunderstand the illegal behavior. For example, if the accused acts in self-defense while under delusions from schizophrenia, then the wrongdoing is justified.

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Next, the individual must not know that the behavior was wrong. It is often true that people with mental disorders can still differentiate right from wrong. Third, the mental disorder must be the sole reason of the lack of comprehension of one’s wrongdoings. If the defendant experienced a physical injury or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, then this would deem the insanity defense to be unsuccessful in court since the mental disorder is not the clear cause of the misunderstandings. The common misinterpretation of the public is that mental disorders are used and are successful in majority of cases.

The public has a different view of mental disorders in court because of the media. Because in T.V. shows, like Law and Order, insanity defenses are regularly used that viewers assume insanity defenses are successfully used in court on a regular basis when in fact it is the opposite. They do this to move the plot along and make it appealing for viewers. Therefore, it is important for the public to be aware of the fact that mental disorders are important in court, but they are not as commonly used (or successful) as the media portrays them to be.