The M’Naghten rule—sometimes spelled McNaghten—was the original judicial standard for determining criminal insanity. During the trial of Daniel M’Naghten in 1843, the test was invented in England. M’Naghten, thinking he was the Prime Minister, fatally shot Edward Drummond, the Prime Minister’s secretary. M’Naghten claimed Tories plotted to assassinate Prime Minister, leading to his murder. So M’Naghten’s attorney asserted the defense of insanity at trial and provided supporting testimony from experts and other material. M’Naghten spent his life in a mental institution after a jury found him not guilty.

In addition, an attorney can represent a client in a criminal proceeding using a number of different criminal defense tactics. But it’s not simple to employ the insanity defense, despite how it’s depicted in the entertainment industry. Hence, a criminal defendant must satisfy the jurisdiction’s definition of “legal insanity” in order to be found not guilty by reason of insanity.

Courts will use one of the following criteria or standards to define legal insanity:

  • The Model Penal Code Examination,
  • “The Durham Rule”
  • The Irresistible Impulse Test; alternatively,
  • The M’Naghten Law.

The rules of a specific state govern which test that will apply; the court does not pick which test to use. So this article focuses on the M’Naghten Rule, utilized by most states to determine legal insanity.

M’Naghten Rule Examples of Insanity

Examining rule usage in various situations enhances understanding of legal terms. You can determine a defendant’s legal insaneness through these two examples.

Illustration 1:

A man killed his wife and children before patiently waiting for the cops to show up. Three mental health professionals testified that he was too unwell to recognize his illegal behavior. Court sentenced him to a 10-year prison term in a mental hospital after being judged not guilty due to insanity.

Illustration 2:

After using a shovel to strike her neighbor next door, a lady with severe schizophrenia is accused of assault and battery. She asserts that the neighbor was actually a demon attempting to steal her soul. Court finds her not guilty due to insanity.

M’Naghten Rule objections

For a variety of reasons, this particular legal insanity test has been contested. Legal insanity defendants may still be subjected to mandatory medical treatment.

It faces criticism for failing to discriminate between defendants who pose a public risk and those who do not, or between momentary mental illnesses and chronic illnesses. Some argue that this clause makes it easy for individuals with major mental illnesses to avoid prosecution.

Background of the rule

Numerous attempts to change or repeal the statute have been made over the years. The ‘insanity defense’ standard is founded on out-of-date ideas about mental disease, according to the National Alliance on Mental Disease as of late 2010. The threshold should be changed to “the person did not know or substantially appreciate the nature of the act or its legal or moral wrongfulness,” according to NAMI. All of these initiatives were futile.

Recent studies show that not guilty by insanity defense is used in less than 1% of cases, with success occurring in about one-fourth of those cases, despite criticism of the defense.

Utilizing the rule effectively

Despite the aforementioned figures, the M’Naghten Rule has occasionally been applied successfully. In one instance, both the defense and the prosecution agreed that the defendant was mentally ill, making it impossible for him to distinguish between right and wrong. The defendant was declared not guilty in the 2010 decapitation death of his stepmother. The case’s facts revealed a long history of mental illness, including a schizophrenia diagnosis.

A Summary of the M’Naghten Rule

In the middle of the 19th century, the English House of Lords established the M’Naghten Rule, which goes as follows:

This test essentially examines whether a criminal defendant recognized right from wrong at the time the crime was committed or was aware of the nature of the act. Therefore, a defendant must satisfy one of these two different requirements in order to be classified as legally insane under this test.

However, courts may apply this test differently depending on whether the “wrong” in question is a moral, legal, or combined wrong (or both). In addition, some states no longer consider a defendant to be legally crazy if they don’t completely grasp what they’ve done.

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