The background and history of the insanity defense in Georgia

by | Oct 12, 2022 | Criminal Defense

In Georgia, someone can just say they are sorry because they didn’t know what they were doing while committing a crime, and the judge might let them walk scot-free. Of course, they will have to convince the court without reasonable doubt that they were indeed “insane” while acting in that bizarre manner.

A brief history of the insanity defense

In 1843, Daniel M’Naghten tried to kill British Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel but ended up shooting and killing Peel’s secretary Edward Drummond instead. M’Naghten pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. And although he was incriminated, the judge rule that he was indeed insane when committing the crime. He was then sent to an asylum for the criminally insane, where he died eight years later.

After the M’Naghten case, the English common law developed the M’Naghten rule, which has been adopted in some form by most US states, including Georgia. The rule says that a person is not guilty by reason of insanity if they can prove that: they did not know what they were doing or did not know that their actions were wrong.

The 1980s and the Insanity Defense Reform Act

In the early 1980s, there was a wave of high-profile cases in which defendants who had been found guilty by reason of insanity were released from mental institutions and then went on to commit more crimes. In response to public outcry, Congress passed the Insanity Defense Reform Act in 1984, which placed stricter requirements on defendants and their criminal defense attorneys who wanted to use an insanity plea.

The act requires that defendants prove that they had a mental illness or defect at the time of the crime AND that this illness or defect prevented them from knowing that their actions were wrong. The act also requires that defendants be evaluated by mental health professionals appointed by the court. These professionals must submit a report to the court detailing their findings.

The insanity defense remains controversial in Georgia because some people think it is an excuse for people who have committed heinous crimes, while others believe it is a way to ensure that people with mental illness get the help they need. Whatever your opinion on the matter, it is important to understand how the defense works, as it can be helpful during a court case.