Revisiting the insanity defense: contested or consensus?
Bull. Amer. Acad. Psychiatry & the Law
24(2): 165-76, 1996.
The author assesses the accuracy of both the public's opinion and researchers' conclusions regarding
the method of adjudication of insanity cases and investigates the impact of the various types of
reforms enacted in the 1980s on the degree to which insanity cases are contested. Data from seven
states are analyzed. The public's view that insanity cases are typically resolved by a jury trial is
inaccurate. Only 14.4 percent of the 7,299 insanity cases involved a jury trial. Likewise, scholars'
views that most cases are resolved through plea-bargained insanity acquittals are inaccurate. Only
42.9 percent of all insanity cases are plea bargains, and 87.9 percent of all plea bargains are to a
conviction. Jury trials are most likely to occur when the case involves a violent crime such as murder
and the defendant has not been diagnosed with a major mental illness. Public fears that defendants
easily "fool" juries into an inappropriate insanity acquittal are also unfounded. Only 16.1 percent of
all jury trials result in an insanity acquittal. In three states, the figure is 10 percent or less. Contrary
to the conclusions drawn by some scholars, this author finds that several types of reforms enacted
in the 1980s affected the processing of insanity cases.