Week 13 The Insanity Defense
This lesson is a little different from the others. You are a court judge hearing a case on appeal. The case is laid out in the reading selection for this week called Han's Crime.

The question of guilt or innocence depends on proving Han is insane. Insanity it not a psychological term, it is a legal term. It means that the criminal did not understand right from wrong. The behavior was caused by an uncontrollable impulse.

The insanity defense has been used in many high-profile criminal cases involving mass murderers. For example, Kenneth Bianchi entered the insanity defense for his murders of twelve women in Los Angeles and in Bellingham, Washington. During hypnosis sessions with a psychologist, a second personality calling himself Steven Walker came out and claimed responsibility for the crimes. Bianchi claimed that he was not responsible for the murders because he was not aware that he had committed them. Not being the "executive personality" at the time of the crimes, Bianchi couldn't determine right from wrong. This raised a lot of issues regarding the plea of "not guilty by reason of insanity" in our legal system. Later, it was determined that Kenneth Bianchi was faking hypnosis and faking dissociative identity disorder (multiple personality) and he and his cousin Angelo Buono are still in prison today for their crimes.

The question with insanity revolves around the state of mind of the accused. Are the actions of Jeffrey Dahmler who consumed parts of his victims normal? Are the acts committed by David Burkowitz who committed murder because the dog next door "told" him to normal? Mark Hinkley, the man who tried to assassinate then-President Reagan, was trying to impress Jodi Foster because he had become taken with her in the movie Taxi Driver. Mark David Chapman, the man who killed John Lennon outside his Dakota apartment building in New York, thought that he was Holden Caufield, the main character in J.D. Salinger's novel Catcher in the Rye. Are the actions and thinking of these men normal? Clearly not. But are these men insane? Did they know right from wrong? Did they know their acts were against the law and not condoned by society? Did they attempt to cover up their crimes, elude the police and avoid capture? Do they have connections to reality enough to understand their crimes are wrong? All are still in prison to this day.

You will need to decide from this selection whether Han is sane or insane. You will need to provide a well-thought-out rationale for your ruling.

Background of the case:

Han is a young Chinese knife thrower who appears at carnivals. He killed his wife by severing her carotid artery during a performance.

As you see in the reading, the lower court rendered its verdict. This case has been appealed to YOUR court. You can either

  • agree with the lower court (uphold the ruling), or
  • disagree with the ruling (overturn their decision)

To do so, you must declare Han either

  • sane--knew right from wrong and voluntarily killed his wife
  • insane--was victim of an uncontrollable or involuntary impulse

You are to write a 3-4 paragraph explanation of your decision. In your explanation your are to include the following:

  • do you agree or disagree with the lower court?
  • what evidence do you use from the reading to support your decision (be specific and quote relevant passages)
  • comment on and justify your own belief that "not guilty by reason of insanity" is a proper legal decision

Your response should be well-written with correct grammar and spelling. It should be a well-constructed essay.

When you've finished paste your work into an e-mail titled "Week 13 Homework." Then e-mail your work to me at aeaptl@gmail.com.

Week 13 homework is to be completed by 3:00 pm
Monday, June 1
for full credit. It will accepted after that date for half credit.

When e-mailing your work, be sure to paste your work INTO your e-mail.
Do NOT include your work as an attachment.

This is a reminder the final exam is next week, June 8
at 3:30 pm in room 146/101 at LHHS.
Copyright ©2009 Clay Sisman