Righteous Insanity Defense

Righteous Insanity Defense

Persons being tried for murder should be able to use an insanity defense because it is unrighteous for society to punish those whom are “under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act[s] [they] [committed] or, if [they] did know the quality of the act, that [they] did not know that what [they] [were] doing was wrong (PA Code Title 18, 315).” Society does punish heinous conduct but also believes in treating the mentally ill; a successful ”not guilty by reason of insanity” defense is a just compromise.


Imagine you are in the middle of renovating one of your bathrooms and the toilet plumbing isn’t functioning properly. You are hosting a small dinner for friends and family. Even though you directed one guest to a working bathroom, they decide it is more appropriate to “go” somewhere further away from the dinner table. Flush, the toilet overflows and water fills the bathroom. All of your hard weekend work is ruined. The guest was unable to predict the damage caused by flushing that toilet and you cannot reasonably litigate him for damages. Murder is obviously a more terrible act than ruining a bathroom, but this example parallels the righteousness of an insanity defense: it is unfair to blame somebody for committing a wrongful act that seemed rational at the time. The guest saw no wrongdoing in flushing the toilet like an insane person might feel no wrongdoing in murdering others.


It is difficult to grasp how a human being can be unable to appreciate the monstrosity of killing another, and so it is important to mention an illness and its effects on rationality. One illness that is often associated with insanity is schizophrenia. The symptoms of schizophrenia can radically alter normal thought processes: hallucinations, delusions, and catatonia. Let us picture a little thought experiment. An ill person walks throughout a shopping mall. He is passing a deli and a worker eagerly offers a cheese sample. Due to his illness, however, the cheese sample feels like a threatening knife attack. The ill person would behave as if their life was in peril and maybe kill the cheese-offeree. Delusional experiences can lead ill people to commit monstrous acts, but understand that they, like the aforementioned dinner guest, thought their behavior was appropriate.


The delusional person defends himself from attack in the same manner as you would defend yourself, or another. Consider that in our common legal system, one is allowed to kill an attacker if the attacker means to kill the attacked! Here are some relevant specifics as set forth in the PA Crime Codes: 

 Use of force in self-protection.


(a)  Use of force justifiable for protection of the person.–The use of force upon or toward another person is justifiable when the actor believes that such force is immediately necessary for the purpose of protecting himself against the use of unlawful force by such other person on the present occasion.

(2)  The use of deadly force is not justifiable under this section unless the actor believes that such force is necessary to protect himself against death, serious bodily injury, kidnapping or sexual intercourse compelled by force or threat; nor is it justifiable if:

(i)  the actor, with the intent of causing death or serious bodily injury, provoked the use of force against himself in the same encounter; or

(ii)  the actor knows that he can avoid the necessity of using such force with complete safety by retreating, except the actor is not obliged to retreat from his dwelling or place of work, unless he was the initial aggressor or is assailed in his place of work by another person whose place of work the actor knows it to be.

See Title 18, 505: http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/CH/Public/pcde_index.cfm

It is now clear that under these circumstances, killing the deli guy would be the shopper’s legal right. The mall-shopper, or “actor”, did believe that he must behave in order to defend himself from death or serious bodily harm. His behavior, rational and irrational, was justifiable at the time and he does not deserve imprisonment or death.

Examining the PA Code relating to murder is important too (Title 18, 2502):

(a)  Murder of the first degree.–A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.

(d)  Definitions.–As used in this section the following words and phrases shall have the meanings given to them in this subsection:

“Intentional killing.”  Killing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.


It is fair to say that the delusional man does not commit first degree murder by definition; he did not intend to kill an innocent deli worker. His self-defense is tragic yet justified. However, he cannot function in society. Team A is correct in saying “If they are so far out there that they don’t know right from wrong, then they shouldn’t be living among people who do. Maybe an insane asylum would be a better place for them to go” (Trish Geidel). Not guilty by reason of insanity is a righteous plea.


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