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Abolition of the Insanity Plea in Idaho - A Case Study

NCJ Number
Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Volume: 477 Dated: (January 1985) Pages: 72-83
G Geis; R F Meier
Date Published
12 pages
This review of Idaho's 1982 law abolishing the insanity defense considers the law's content, reasons for its enactment, and the likelihood of its being found unconstitutional.
The law prohibits any consideration of a defendant's insanity in a criminal trial. Testimony is restricted to issues of mens rea and other elements of the offense charged. The court, however, is ordered by law to consider mental illness as a factor in sentence selection. To obtain views on the law and the circumstances of its enactment, this study surveyed a sample of Idaho psychiatrists (5 responses), legislators (18 responses), and prosecutors (9 responses). Respondents agreed that the insanity plea had been misused and had failed to provide either satisfactory treatment for mentally ill offenders or adequate community protection against them. Respondents also generally believed that all offenders should assume the punitive consequences of their behavior. In the three States which had previously abolished the insanity defense, the enactments were ruled unconstitutional by the courts on the basis of such doctrines as the right to due process and to a fair and impartial trial. It may be that criminal intent and insanity issues are so closely related that insanity issues can only be excluded by adopting a strict liability approach to offenses that now require criminal intent. This will challenge the traditional belief that culpability requires the intent to commit a crime. 30 footnotes.