What Is The Legal Definition Of “Insanity?”

We’ve probably all joked about committing a violent act and pleading insanity when brought forth before a judge. An insanity defense has an enormous impact on how the law is applied. A person declared legally insane would not be subject to an identical set of consequences as a person who committed a crime in a clear cognitive state.

The dictionary of law defines insanity as “a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Insanity is distinguished from low intelligence or mental deficiency due to age or injury.”

Insanity is often invoked as a defense when the crimes are severe or the death penalty is an expected outcome for any other defense. It was thrust into the public’s eye once again over the past few months when former President Donald Trump spent the last few weeks of his administration’s time in the White House forcing through a number of controversial executions despite the threat of coronavirus spread or the fact that those to be executed might be insane or mentally incompetent.

The law specifically states that a person cannot be subject to capital punishment if they cannot be made aware of why they are being executed. The Supreme Court helped Trump push through the spate of executions up until his last days in office.

Before a person can be declared insane, they are usually placed into a medical care facility where they can be examined by psychiatrists. These individuals will then help a judge make a decision based on reports submitted in writing to clarify the person’s cognitive state. But the judge makes the final decision on who should be declared legally insane and why. A person declared insane is considered dangerous and is normally placed in a separate facility from other prisoners.