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Mental Illness and Insanity in Law

An individual’s mental status is an important consideration in legal matters. An individual who suffers from mental illness or is insane has obtained a different form of treatment under the law and this vary from one state to another. However, the difference between mental illness and insanity has for sometimes raised debates especially among the interpreters of the law. This paper will explore this difference and also get deeper into the differences between the pleas “guilty but mentally ill” and “not guilty because of insanity” as applied in law.

A decree of insanity in the legal system means that the person who is a suspect in a case has a positive history of persistent or episodic psychiatric illness. This, according to the law can be proven through the provision of health records that validate the defense and excuses the suspect from their actions. The verdict given therefore is that the defendant is “not guilty because of insanity.” The legal interpretation of this is that the defendant may have been guilty but owing to the psychiatric history, he or she is deemed not responsible for the actions. A diagnosis of mental illness is on the other hand related to the results conducted on behalf of the court to ascertain the current mental status of a defendant. This does not take into consideration the history but the present status of the mind through a medical diagnosis.

The differences between the pleas “not guilty because of insanity” and “guilty but mentally ill” is quite clear from this explanation. A defendant is found not guilty because of insanity if his or her actions are related to a positive history of psychiatric illness and hence not responsible. On the other hand, a person is deemed guilty but mentally ill if he or she seems not appreciate the wrongness of their actions or the consequences of their crimes. This lack of remorse then leads to a mental health assessment that if it ascertains that the defendant is indeed mentally ill, the plea is then ‘guilty but mentally ill.’ These two pleas are necessary as they assist to distinguish the defendant who can be released under the fact that they are not responsible for their action and those that have to be convicted but are mentally ill.

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