Insanity defense is a claim in criminal trials that defendant is not in a position to realize the actual nature and danger of his actions or control them due to a mental disorder or other mental illness. In criminal law, insanity is a reason to exempt such a person from criminal liability and subject it to forced treatment.
The notion that a person with mental illness should not be treated with the criteria used for the assessment of mentally normal behavior developed in primitive form for quite a long time. The development of psychiatric science at the present stage allowed to form an idea about the insanity of people who have committed socially dangerous acts under the influence of mental disorders, affecting their ability to evaluate the social significance of the consequences of their actions and their volition.
Should be noted, that insanity defense is a concept that is only specific to criminal law: this category does not apply to other types of individual behavior, but of a socially dangerous act.
The concept of insanity defense is of relatively recent origins. The law considers the criminal liability in context with the ability to take legal consequences of your actions; in other words, the criminal liability here coincides with legal capacity. However, there were separate regulations on the irresponsibility of minors (infantes), insane (furiosi), etc.
There were also the expression injuriae capax, doli or culpae capax; on the other hand, there was a concept of innocentia consilii; but no common signs of sanity has been established in medieval law.
Only in the late 19th century, there were attempts to define the general terms and conditions for imposing and introducing concepts of sanity and insanity. Historically, the insanity was defined first, when sanity was defined later as the opposition to insanity.
In the legal literature, there are several approaches to the treatment of insanity. Some authors equate insanity with a certain state of mind, precluding the possibility to be aware of socially dangerous action and ability to control them, and allowing to raise the question of exculpation (release from criminal responsibility) of the person. Critics of this postulate, point out that insanity is inability of a mentally ill person to act illegally.
In the modern criminal law, there are the medical and the legal criteria of insanity. The legal criterion involves the inability of a person to form the necessary intellectual and volitional attitude toward his activity. Medical (biological) criterion is defined by the presence in a person an officially recognized state of a mental activity disorder, which is the reason for the legal criterion.
As it follows from the names of the criteria of insanity, determining insanity requires both legal and medical expertise in each case. Therefore, there is a procedural form known as forensic psychiatric examination for detecting insanity. It should be noted that expertise can only assess presence or absence of medical criteria of insanity, and may not give an opinion on the “sanity” or “insanity” of defendant.
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