Insanity Pleas and Capital Punishment

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One way to hand off a better world to our Grandchildren is to reduce costs for criminal prosecution and incarceration.  Granted this is not a budget issue as large as the “entitlement” programs, but it’s large enough.  It is also a moral issue worthy of attention.

The May 25, 2011 competency hearing for Lee Loughner, accused of the Tucson shootings, pronounced him incompetent to stand trial. This reminds me of a trial here in the Tri-Cities of a woman accused of murder whose defense was insanity.  In the woman’s case, the defense motion of incompetence was rejected.  Brief description:  the accused lured the pregnant victim to her home where she killed the victim, then cut her open to extract the baby.  Motive – she planned to claim the baby as her own.  The baby died either during or shortly after the mother’s murder. The murderer then dumped the mother’s body in a park, returned home, and called 911 to request help with “her baby”.  It took authorities only a few hours to piece together what actually happened.  During the competency hearing, additional women testified that she had also tried to coax (lure) them to her house.  She was declared competent based on the planning (premeditation) involved in the murder(s). The  jury found her guilty of first degree murder.

These two cases share the following points:
– Multiple egregious murders, even if the woman intended for the baby to live
– The question of competency
– No question of guilt, the defense didn’t challenge WHO committed the crime

My proposal for pleas of “not guilty by reason of insanity.”  I’ll start with the most extreme position and then offer a compromise.  A friend of mine and I were discussing the local crime above and capital crimes in general. I agree with his opinion, “Why should we feed and care for these people for the rest of their lives? They have proven that they can’t or won’t follow the most basic of natural covenants, “You may not kill your fellow man, except in self defense.”   People who violate this covenant are simply too dangerous to live among the rest of us.   Further, I see little difference between those who”know right from wrong”, but are willing to violate this covenant because of greed, jealousy, or anger, and those who are deemed “insane” for whatever reason.   More to the point, we must treat them essentially the same. We must permanently and physically isolate them from the rest of us so they cannot repeat their actions. In both cases some form of incarceration and some form of guard force are necessary to protect other people (and the guard force itself) from the murderers. I would not consider the “insane” person less dangerous than the criminal, nor should the level of security be any less. Insane does not equal stupid, however it does add an element of unpredictability.  Beyond the cost of incarceration, the only way to guaranteebetween   these people will not repeat is execution.   Example, guard Jayme Biendl, 34, a guard at Washington’s Monroe prison was murdered in the chapel at the prison.  The accused inmate, Byron Schert, was serving a life sentence.

What criteria would I use for determining the difference criminal insanity and just plain murder?  I could easily argue that anyone who would and could kill another for any reason except self-defense is insane.  Surely the woman above was not totally rational, thinking that she could just cut a baby out of another woman and convince people it was her own.  However, one could apply the, “What were you thinking?” question to many crimes.  So lack of rational thinking is not the acid test.  I would apply the following: If the victim’s loved one had a gun and was standing behind the attacker at the time of the crime, would the accused still have attempted the crime?   If the answer is “No” then the accused is “sane enough” to stand trial. The questions of “whether they can participate in their own defense and understand the charges against them” are just legal games and are beside the point.  The key questions are, “Would they have done it, and did they do it?”  These questons determine competance and guilt.

First Compromise Position

We spend a lot of taxpayer dollars on proving/disproving insanity, for both prosecution and defence if the accused has a public defender. I propose that except in extreme cases where the state intends to seek the death penalty, that the plea of insanity be accepted by the state, with the following condition.  The person will be institutionalized for life, in the highest security facility (hospital) no exceptions, and no possibility of release until they are too old and frail to be a danger to society.  This would accomplish two objectives. It would limit the use of this plea to those for whom it truly applied. Also, it would save tax payers’ money by eliminating trials, as this would in essence be a “guilty” plea.

Second Compromise Position

Now to the question of capital punishment itself, and my friend’s question of why should we feed murderers for life.  Here is a compromise I would offer those who believe capital punishment should be abolished – sponsorship.  Those who oppose capital punishment could “sponsor” an accused murderer.  They would cover the entire cost of keeping the murder in prison for life via monthly payments.  These payments would go to the state beginning on the day of the scheduled execution.  The “lucky” criminal would be chosen by the sponsoring group (He who pays the piper calls the tune).  Three additional conditions: 1) If the sponsors fall more than 90 days behind in their payments, the execution is carried out on the 91st day. 2) If the accused ever kills anyone else (e.g. a guard or fellow prisoner) the execution is carried out the day after being found guilty of the second murder.  3) A contingent of 10% of the sponsoring organization will meet with the next of kin of the subsequent victim(s) and offer a personal apology.  It’s very easy for some people to empathize with the murderer who is a very real person and forget the victims who are now just memories.

To repeat, the costs and potential savings are not as great as the major items in theFederal budget, but this question has both a fiscal and a moral facet worthy of addressing.

What do you think?  Comments welcome.

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