Should Serial Killers be able to plead insanity?

According to the definition, a serial killer is a person who has committed several criminal murders, separated by time. The main motivation for committing these murders is getting the psychological and physiological pleasure. By definition, a priori, serial killers are people with mental disorders. In principle, a person who commits such brutal killings cannot be considered a normal one (Promish, 1999). In the humane society it is immoral even to imagine the possibility of murder or mistreatment of animals, not to mention such behavior with people. But if there is something forbidden, then for sure there is someone who wants to get it. No laws and threats will stop a person who has dealt cruelly with innocent people. And, of course, the question of penalties for such people rises. Most often, when it comes to trial, the defendants appealed to their mental disorders. And every time the seriousness of this argument for acquittal awakes discussions. The question whether serial killers should be able to plead insanity is almost as much controversial and debatable as the issue of capital punishment. Opinions differ.

In most civilized countries the court pays special attention to people whose behavior is the result of certain mental disorders. Modern justice system in different countries sometimes accepts this fact as the reason to acquit the accused. But in most countries and the United American states mental disorders are used just to explain the killer’s behavior but not to excuse it. The great role still plays some cases when accused try to avoid punishment via appealing to his mental disease.

A lot of mental specialists, advocates and indifferent people discuss this problem. Some of them agree that serial killers should be able to plead insanity; the others have another point of view on this question. For instance, in the USA there is the Hatch bill and its author considers that “an individual suffering from delusions, who believed that he was throwing darts at a board instead of stabbing a victim to death, would not be guilty of murder” (Taylor, 1981). In such case from his words it’s considered that accused did not kill people intentionally and he does not deserve the punishment which in regular cases should be applied. Most advocates who support the idea of plead insane consider this bill to be the most important document in the criminal law (Taylor, 1981).

One of those who share this point of view is Alan Dershowitz who works as a Harvard law professor. He sees the greatest problem in idea to abolish the possibility for serial killers to plead insanity. Professor asserts that this question has significant moral aspect and that the insanity defense is the only one way to tell humans why those who commit crimes should be held responsible (Taylor, 1981).

Tom Nolan, Santa Clara County lawyer is famous because of the unprecedented case. In 1990 he won a case of a mother who strangled her two kids. He considered the fact that Jurors voted for an insanity plea showed the way the society should act in. Tom Nolan asserts that regardless the fact that that woman killed her children society and jury should understand that it’s very important to find somebody insane. According to his opinion this way to act is the possibility to show to other children that that woman really killed her kids but it can happen just to woman who has some mental disease; this is not the case which happens every day (Seligman, 2002).

These individuals who support the necessity to abolish or restrict the insanity defense mostly provide different arguments in favor of their point of view. For instance, Mr. Meese and Senator Hatch explain such need as the possibility to prevent violent crimes; they see it as the method of intimidation which should scare potential killers to act in this way. “We would do a lot better as far as ridding the streets of some of the most dangerous people that are out there, that are committing a disproportionate number of crimes” (Taylor, 1981).

Some advocates such as Dr. Stone, professor of law and psychiatry at Harvard Law School, speak on these situations in court when different experienced mental specialists from the sides of the prosecution and defense present different diagnoses that completely contradict one another. As Dr. Stone says: “The psychiatrists who participate are like clowns performing in a three-ring circus” (Taylor, 1981). He also appeals to the fact that psychiatrists cannot protect people from violent criminals and the only one way to avoid more murders and to protect civilians is to imprison these people who has mental disease and who have already committed the crime (Taylor, 1981).

Some other people, for instance David Dow, a law professor at University of Houston, call to the fact that to recognized serial killers accused means to permit them to come back to their common life in the society which lost its members because of his acts and he can continue living as nothing happened. Such situation looks really absurdly for normal human beings’ understanding (Seligman, 2002).

It’s necessary to notice that these people who advocate abolishing the insanity defense also understand the seriousness of this situation and they don’t propose to treat the criminals with mental disease in the similar way with ordinary criminals, of course, they should be judges in special way. For instance, American Psychological Association express such an opinion: “defendants whose crimes derive from their mental illness should be sent to a hospital and treated – not cast into a prison, much less onto death row”(Moran, 2006).

One see that there are different opinions and this question is really debatable and in a short words ”“ many man, many minds but as for my opinion I knew from the very beginning that serial killers should not be plead just because of insanity. It’s not enough to get psychological treatment to become a good person. In most cases such people repeat their murders and sometimes even in more rude way. At the initial stage of writing when I was involved in the search for relevant material, I was not confident in my final decision, but the decisive thing for me was not even statements of competent people, psychiatrists, lawyers, but the quotes of serial killers themselves, which sounded incredibly brutally and no feeling of remorse, and on contrary, there was a desire and belief that if they had the opportunity, they would have repeated all of their murders.

I think that the argument that we should be more humane towards people with mental disease does not work in this case. When the court decides to free a serial killer or a maniac, who can guarantee the security for the people who brought this man to justice, or for the relatives of his victims? And how to avoid situations when people close to the victims crave revenge? Could go that unpunished evil spawn another evil? A person, who commits serial murders, should serve his sentence in a form different from other criminals. But in any case – it should be punished in strict form in conjunction with compulsory treatment. Maybe a life sentence in an institution with a permanent medical supervision and medical treatment can help these people and society much more than a short-term psychiatric care and the need to return to society, where everybody hate of a serial killer once again.

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