Imagine that you’ve been summoned to serve your civil duty as a juror in a high-profile court case. Trial day rolls around, you find your seat in the jury box and you watch as sobbing spectators, some family of the victims and others family of the perpetrator begin to file in. The judge hammers his gavel and the lawyers continue into their procession.
The person standing trial is a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit whose charges consist of fifteen counts of murder. Ever since his adolescence, the perpetrator was bestowed with the predisposition to mutilate and dissect living beings. It began in his ninth-grade science class with the dissection of a pig fetus. While the majority of us would proceed apprehensively and greatly anticipate the conclusion of such an activity, this particular individual was so fascinated with what laid under the hood of the fetus that he carried the remains of it home and toyed with them in his room, a smile burgeoning on his face as if he were an ecstatic kid who had just achieved his first victory in Fortnite. The urge within him to kill and pick apart animals steadily grew, working his way from squirrels to cats and dogs and, eventually, human beings, until it was uncontrollable. He went on to rape, kill and dismember seventeen men and boys in a span of thirteen years. Law.com states the definition of insanity as a person who cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct his/her affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. With that being said, would you, as a juror, be in favor of a not guilty by reason of insanity verdict? It seems to me that the characteristics of the killer align perfectly with the latter part of the legal definition of insanity, and so by the book he should be deemed insane and given a lesser sentence with the possibility of release. Luckily, this jury denied his plea. The man standing trial was the infamous Jeffrey Dahmer, and before the judge struck his gavel to symbolize the conclusion of the trial, Dahmer was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life sentences. Jeffrey Dahmer was beaten to death two years later by a fellow inmate.
Now imagine a slightly different scenario. Enter the courtroom an unspectacular man by the name of John. John grew up a rich kid in the state of Texas, child to the owners of an oil company, and appeared to have an All-American upbringing. He played every sport his school had to offer in high school and was even elected the president of his class on two occasions. However, this seemingly promising young man’s success began and ended in his adolescent years. After high school, John attended Texas Tech University off and on for six years until he eventually dropped out and moved to Los Angeles with the ambition of becoming a songwriter. He blossomed into a miserable failure and returned home to mommy and daddy and their money just a year later. While back home, John became obsessed with newly released film entitled Taxi Driver, in which a disturbed protagonist plots to assassinate a presidential candidate. Playing in the movie as a child prostitute was Jodie Foster, who John fell head over heels in love with. When Jodie Foster moved to New Haven, Connecticut to attend Yale University, John followed along to stalk her, regularly slipping poems and letters under her door in attempt to extract a response from her. When these attempts failed, John plotted a plan to win her attention. He settled on an attempt to assassinate the President of the United States, and outside of the Hilton Hotel in Washington DC, he did exactly that. John fired off six bullets from his revolver in the direction of the President Reagan, injuring a police officer, a secret service agent, White house press secretary James Brady and the president himself. While initially all victims survived, James Brady was hit on the right side of his head which caused the paralysis of the left side of his body until his death in 2014, which was ruled a homicide. John Hinckley Jr. pursued the not guilty by reason of insanity plea and won. He was admitted to a mental hospital in 1983, where he was gradually allowed to roam among the general population for weeks at a time until his full release was actualized in 2016.
In the wake of the ever-increasing quantity of mass shootings, the guilty by reason of insanity plea is an increasingly popular term being tossed around pretty regularly. Is it a valid argument in shielding the mentally insane from capital punishment, or simply a cop out for a lesser sentence? In the two examples outlined above, it is my belief that both men standing trial were mentally insane, cut from different yet similar cloths, and that neither of them, or any like them, should ever be granted the luxury of rejoining society and be given the chance to target new victims. In fact, I don’t believe either of them should be granted a life in any form, not even one in which their days rot away behind the ironclad bars of a six by eight-foot prison cell. The taxpayer need not be burdened with supporting a life without a cause. Besides, what do we do when there’s a growth of disruptive (cancer) cells in our bodies? We vaporize them with chemotherapy. Our societal body shouldn’t be any different.
Nowadays there are sophisticated tests and an expert opinion is required to make a not guilty by insanity plea even feasible, but even then, won’t it always boil down to someone’s word against another? The way i see it insanity isn’t a disease that can be diagnosed like the common cold or the flu. Its foundation is not built on the presence of a virus or bacteria, but rather on the opinion of a PhD. Besides, isn’t insanity a prerequisite of a person possessing the capability to commit a capital offense? In closing, I leave you with a final thought. As a participating member of the jury in the above trials, how would you feel if you were on the side of the not guilty by reason of insanity plea, and Mr. Dahmer or Mr. Hinckley were eventually released and reverted to killing another man, woman or child? If you’re in favor of ever allowing these untrustworthy beasts to roam and wreak havoc on the general population, well, perhaps you too, should be reserved a space inside the insane asylum.