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Insanity Defense


The insanity defense is used in less than 1% of all criminal cases. Juveniles are not allowed to plead insanity unless they are being tried as an adult. There are three major prongs of the insanity defense; the defendant must have a mental disease or defect at the time of the offense, the defendant does not know right from wrong, and the defendant acted on impulse. These indicators are extremely hard to prove. A perfect example of this is the case of Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weire. 

A 16-year-old going to prison for murder is a national shocker. How can a kid commit a heinous crime? In 2014, two Wisconsin girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weire, both 12 years old, lured and stabbed their mutual friend Payton Leutner 19 times. Geyser and Weire were both fascinated with the fictional horror series Slender Man. The slender man was a dark shadowy figure with a blank face(Astor,2018). Both Geyser and Weire claimed they wanted to "please '' slender man and become "proxies". But becoming proxies wouldn't change the fact that they attempted to kill their best friend, with Geyser stabbing her and Weire urging her on (Astor,2018). Doctors diagnosed Geyser with schizophrenia and psychotic spectrum disorder. It is truly a miracle that Leutner survived.

Schizophrenia and psychotic spectrum disorder are some of the most unpleasant diagnoses. One of the common symptoms is delusions or fictional fixed beliefs. Delusions are often deemed "bizarre" because they are implausible and not understandable. They "express lack of control over the mind or body"  (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). Hallucinations are another symptom of schizophrenia and psychosis as they are "perception like experiences that occur without an external stimulus" (Astor,2018). Auditory hallucinations such as hearing voices are the most common kind. The voices can be either familiar or unfamiliar. Geyser was hearing voices to kill her friend to make the slender man happy and please him. Schizophrenia and psychosis can also induce a lack of emotional expression. This includes little remorse. During the trial, Geyser told the court "I never meant this to happen. And I hope that she's doing well" (Astor,2018). However, her actions say differently. Geyser pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree intentional homicide and was sentenced to 40 years in a mental health facility. Weire pleaded guilty to being an accomplice to attempted second-degree intentional homicide and was sentenced to 25 years in a psychiatric facility. Under Wisconsin law "commitments to psychiatric facilities can be terminated early if the patient is compliant" (Astor,2018). Geyser's lawyer is confident that if she is consistent with her medication, she will have a greater chance of being released early. Although Geyser is only 15 years old, the judge at her trial thought the sentence was fair to keep the public safe.

Unlike Geyser and Weire, Donovan Nicholas’s judge did not buy his defense. The gruesome case took place in Champaign Illinois in April 2017. Donovan Nicholas was an average 14-year-old boy living with his father and surrogate mother. Nicholas gruesomely stabbed his father's live-in girlfriend, Heidi Taylor, 60 times until he fatally shot her in their home (Huges,2018). After Nicholas shot Taylor, he made a chilling 9-1-1 call claiming someone else killed his mom. Nicholas was arrested and charged with Taylor's murder. In court, Nicholas pled not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming he has multiple personality disorder. Nicholas's defense attorney tried to convince the judge to release Nicholas and even said "he doesn't even know how to drive a car" (Huges,2018). The judge was not convinced and set Nicholas's bond to $700,000. The "Champaign County Family Court Judge Lori Reisinger moved his case to adult court" (Hughes,2018). A forensic psychologist, Daniel Hrinko was hired to evaluate Nicholas's state of mind and diagnosed Nicholas with dissociative disorder. The "alleged split personality is from a character in an internet horror series called Jeff the Killer" (Hughes,2018). After the case was moved to adult court, Nicholas was sentenced to life with a possibility of parole in 25 years(2018). Before starting his life sentence, Nicholas must serve a 3-year sentence for a firearm infraction.

Multiple personality disorder is rarely diagnosed and occurs more frequently in males. (American Psychiatric Association, 2013) Dissociative disorder is "characterized by a disruption of a discontinuity in the normal integration of consciousness, memory, identity, and emotion" (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). A person with personality disorders has at least two or more personality states. Typically, dissociative and personality disorder forms after trauma. The disorders create alterations in behavior, memory, perception, and sensory. (American Psychiatric Association,2013) People with these disorders can have gaps in their everyday lives and loss of recollection.

Although insanity defense cases are rarely successful, some offenders have serious mental illnesses and need to be treated rather than serve life in prison. The offenders must prove that they suffered from a mental illness at the time of the offense. The offender must also be evaluated, and sometimes have multiple evaluations completed to confirm their diagnosis. The complicated part is to identify which offenders are truly sick and which are trying to gain a get-out-of-jail-free card.

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Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Publishing.

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