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Getting 62 Years | A Good Boy Turned Sick? | The Hinckley Factor | Not Crazy Enough
"A very serious mistake" | Conclusion
   


"Juries almost never acquit people by reason of insanity," says Henry Steadman, who heads Policy Research Associates, a think tank based in Albany, New York.

A number of states returned to a standard borrowed from 19th-century English Law: the M'Naghten Rule. It demands that a defendant be so out of touch with reality as to not know his actions were wrong. Being unable to control one's actions is not enough.

In the 1980's Steadman did the most authoritative study on the realities of the insanity defense. In an 8-state study encompassing some one million felony cases, he found that just under 1% of defendants pled not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity, and just one in four of those attempts resulted in an acquittal. His findings contrasted sharply with the public perception as measured in surveys; Americans over-estimated the frequency of insanity- defense acquittals by a striking 80 to one.

A few decades ago it might have been slightly easier to get an insanity acquittal than it is today, some experts believe. In the 1960's and 70's about half of the states used a relatively lenient standard for legal insanityone that required the defendant to show she'd been unable to control her criminal behavior because of a mental disease.

That standard quickly went out of fashion in 1982.

Using a version of the inability-to-control standard, a Washington, D.C. jury acquitted John W. Hinckley, Jr., who had shot President Reagan and three aides in a delusional attempt to impress the actress Jodi Foster, whom he admired from afar. The court sent Hinckley to a secure mental hospital, where he remains to this day. But politicians and others expressed outrage at the verdict, and within four years half the states and the federal government had changed their laws, making it tougher to be found legally insane.

A number of states returned to a standard borrowed from 19th-century English Law: the M'Naghten Rule. It demands that a defendant be so out of touch with reality as to not know his actions were wrong. Being unable to control one's actions is not enough.

At Kyle Zwack's trial in Houston in 1987, mental health experts on both sides agreed Kyle was mentally ill. But was he legally insane?

Next: Not Crazy Enough