Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Pleading Exculpatory Insanity

"[Such] cases can conjure thoughts of violent offenders faking a mental illness to avoid prison time, shortened hospital stays with early release into the community accompanied by fears the individual will reoffend."
"This emphasizes the importance of supporting family members ... as both potential helpers and potential victims."
Study, Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

"This suggests that violence risk-assessment training and interventions to reduce further mental-health deterioration and criminal offending are a priority in civil psychiatric services."
Anne Crocker, McGill University, study co-author

"A truly safe society does not change that established principle [accused not be convicted for crimes arising from mental disorder] by incarcerating people with mental disorders -- or by further stigmatizing them -- but rather ensures that procedures are in place to protect both the individual and the public."
"What is particularly frustrating to at least some of us from a more scientific and less political background is when major policy changes occur in the absence of -- and sometimes directly contrary to -- what quality research has shown to be the current truth."
Patrick Baillie, psychologist, Alberta

A new study purports to show that a mere fraction of less than 0.2 percent of criminal cases annually will take advantage of pleading mental disorder to win a verdict of not criminally responsible for crimes committed. The finding was once spoken of as "not guilty by reason of insanity". And it is an option that is often used by lawyers who make their defence based on the assumption that no one in their right mind would commit offences such as their clients engaged in.

There is the recent case of a young mother of five children who really did suffer from mental illness and that was used in her defence against a charge of murder when she rammed her accused rapist into a brick wall with her vehicle, and testified that she had no memory of having done any such thing, that her mind blanked out at that critical time. The jury set aside the mental incapacity plea but did so for humane reasons, to leave her with a relatively short prison sentence rather than a lifetime of incarceration in a mental-health holding facility.

And then there is the infamous case of Luka Magnotta who tortured and murdered a young Chinese exchange student in Montreal, and who dismembered the body sending body parts anonymously to various politicians including the Prime Minister, and who then fled to Germany. He had videoed his grisly performance for Internet entertainment, and at his trial his lawyer presented him as a man suffering from mental illness. Magnotta had emulated symptoms he recalled of his own father's mental illness. The jury rejected his plea to find him guilty as charged.

And then there's the more recent case of a man who sexually abused his seven-year-old daughter, whom the Crown accused of being drunk, and the defence insisted their client was in a state of automatism while sleepwalking. He was diagnosed with "sexsomnia" (sleep sex), accused of crawling in bed with his child when his wife spurned him after he had indulged in too much liquor. A sleep expert testified at the trial it was his belief the man was suffering from parasomnia triggered by alcohol. The judge found him not guilty.

Many of the cases where the accused attempt to take shelter under mental disorder relate to minor assaults, property offences or other crimes not considered to be seriously violent. Instances involving severe violence appear rare overall, and recidivism is held to be lower than that of the general prison population with those committing severe violent offices less likely to reoffend than those who committed less serious offences.

According to the study, 17 percent of cases reoffended within three years of followup; equating to half the rate for the general prison population. Rates of reoffence are much higher for mentally ill inmates in the general prison population; about 70 percent. Three in four such patients had a history of at least once being hospitalized for a mental-health condition; usually a psychotic disorder compromised by substance abuse.
  • About 3 in 4 were on government assistance at the time of the offence;
  • One in ten was homeless;
  • About half the not-criminally-responsible group had no prior major criminal convictions;
  • Most victims were family members, not strangers.
The point is, it's hard for ordinary minds to wrap around the notion that anyone could commit heinous and gruesome crimes and not be insane. Yet when Clifford Olson was arrested for the serial murder of no fewer than eleven young people ranging in age from nine to 18 in the early 1980s, the reality was that he was a cold-blooded psychopath, a dangerously violent predatory pedophile. Who died after thirty years in prison, parole repeatedly denied.
Russell Williams' day: Dump body, help plan security for world leaders
And certainly there was a severe underlying mental imbalance when former Canadian Forces Colonel Russell Williams, a man on an upward trajectory in the Forces -- who had flown high-profile government leaders and royalty in the course of his trusted duties before becoming commander of Canadian Forces Base Trenton -- became known as a murderer. No fewer than 88 charges faced him in court; two murders, numerous horrific sex assaults and allied predatory sexual offences and break-ins. Life in prison.

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