If Mental Illness Made Him Do It, Why Punish Him?


The New York Times notes that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Jared Lee Loughner's lawyer to mount a successful insanity defense: No matter how loony his ideas, no matter how delusional and paranoid he may have been, no matter how many people diagnose him at a distance as a schizophrenic, he will still be held responsible for his actions, under the assumption that at the time of his crime he knew right from wrong and was in control of his own behavior. I think that is how it should be. But there is a tension, if not an outright contradiction, between this position and the complaint that it's too hard to lock up crazy people like Loughner before they commit crimes. I suspect that defenders of forcible psychiatric treatment such as Joe Klein, William Galston, Mona Charen, and E. Fuller Torrey do not think Loughner should be acquitted by reason of insanity. Yet they suggest that Saturday's shooting rampage could have been prevented if only Loughner had been pre-emptively imprisoned and compelled to take antipsychotic drugs. Their basic premise, then, is that Loughner would not have shot 20 people but for his mental illness—i.e., that schizophrenia made him do it. If so—if Loughner truly was not in control of his actions—how is it just to punish him?

In a 2002 column, I noted that a similarly flexible understanding of individual responsibility underlies the treatment of sex offenders who are deemed sane enough to be tried, convicted, and imprisoned for their crimes (because of their ability to control their behavior) but not sane enough to be released when they complete their sentences (because of their inability to control their behavior). Clarification: I am talking here not about registration of sex offenders (a policy with problems of its own) but about their indefinite detention in mental hospitals after they have finished serving their sentences, a practice that has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

NEXT: This "Conversation" Is a Set-Up

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  1. “If so?if Loughner truly was not in control of his actions?how is it just to punish him?”

    Because it makes so many people feel so much better? There was a time when if an animal gored a human they would actually put the animal on trial and give him the same penalty as a person who killed someone.

    1. I actually agree with Minge, here. Clearly, Loughner was born with a passion for killing people. How could we punish someone for simply acting upon their genetic disposition? Indeed, we need to treat people like Loughner as a special class of citizen, so that they don’t get discriminated against. If you are born with a desire to kill, you MUST act upon it. No one chooses to be a murderer, they are simply born that way. /sarc

  2. What? There was? “How does the bull plead?”. Doesn’t seem right.

    1. Bull’s Lawyer: “Your Honor! My client may be bull headed – but he just saw RED! It was temporary insanity!”

      Bull: Pfffpppfpffpfffttpppffpp…*drool*

      Jury: We’ve seen the gory details – GUILTY!

      Bull: Pfffpppfpffpfffttpppffpp…*drool*

      1. I move for a mistrial your honor! My client was not found guilty by a jury of his peers!!

      2. Guilty!
        Judge: to the abattoir with him!
        Prosecutor to baliff: What for lunch?
        Baliff: Fresh, fresh beef!
        Jury Foreman: I like mine rare!

  3. I don’t see the purpose in punishing someone who is delusional. Unfortunately, he has proven himself too dangerous to be allowed free, so what do you do? I don’t know how much less of a punishment a psychiatric institute for the criminally insane is than a prison.

    1. The orderlies are much gentler rapists.

  4. rapidly approaching mosquerbating levels.

    1. Please clean the booth when finished.

    2. Yeah buddy!

    3. Maybe we should build the mosque on top of Loughner?

  5. I’m no softie, but this clearly looks like a guy who doesn’t belong in a maximum security prison, but in a secure mental health facility where he can get the treatment he needs, hopefully in a relatively humane manner.

    Frankly, it pisses me off that his parents didn’t do more to force him to get help, especially considering he was living with them. They HAD to have known how sick he is.

    1. Schizophrenic onset is very sudden and usually occurs in the very early twenties (it happens to a lot of people in college when they are away from their families). Prior to that, there may be no warning signs at all. So his parents may not have had any idea.

      It is doubtful that there is anyone to blame here. It’s just a shitty thing that happened.

      1. It just “happened”? I feel better already!

      2. At what age did your first psychotic break occur, Epi?

      3. By definition, Schizophrenia is a condition with symptoms present for at least 6 months. So, there is usually some lead time. However, the laws are pretty clear that you can only detain someone if they are an active danger to themselves or someone else, or unable to maintain their own health and safety. Not possibly dangerous, but actively so. Which is virtually impossible for a mental health professional to know.

    2. They HAD to have known how sick he is.

      You’d be surprised.

      As Epi said – the typical age at which Schiz emerges is coincidentally when most kids are ‘separating’ from their families and going out on their own; their apparent ‘weirdness’ is often interpreted by parents as a sort of growing pains type thing, or at least they keep their hands off to a degree because they assume this is a ‘transition’ thing…

      In retrospect, when you go through the entire spectrum of perspectives (friends, teachers, etc) people had, it seems completely obvious he was completely *@#&$’d in the head (as noted, his community college requested he see mental health service)…but again, you’d be surprised how at the time people won’t fully admit how bad things really are until after there’s a full-blown “break” … and that’s usually what happens, BTW: a major event where someone who’s pre-schizo crosses the line from ‘pretty weird’ (aka affective disorder) to ‘barking at the moon’ (following acute psychotic episode).

      I think shooting 9 people qualifies as a ‘break’ moment.

      In regards to ‘legal insanity’ and ‘mental illness’, I think the standards are such that he will still be fit to be tried and not be able to plea out in any way. They may *try*, but I doubt the plea will be accepted.

      The fact is, he knew what he was doing (it was premeditated); he bought a gun, went out of his way to get enough rounds to shoot as many people as possible, and was coherent enough to remain congnizant of the differences between right and wrong. (Its not like the lawyer could try, “your honor, he thought they were all aliens who had taken over human bodies and were part of a conspiracy to eliminate the human race”) He wasn’t that kind of crazy, apparently. He knew he was going to go on a people-shooting spree, and that shooting people indiscriminately is generally considered an unfriendly, not-so-nice thing to do.

      The insanity defence is really only appropriate for cases where you can establish the person did not know what they were doing and were at least temporarily unable to distinguish between right and wrong. Premediated assasination of congresspeople doesn’t fit so much, even if it was because he believed she was part of the conspiracy to manipulate grammar and control people’s consciousnesses… yes, shithouse crazy; no, not so crazy he could argue he didn’t know what he was doing.

      1. Seriously? You think a guy who believes the government uses grammer to control people’s minds ISN’T so shithouse crazy that he’s not fit to stand trial?

        IMO, if ever there was a case where the insanity defense SHOULD be applied, it is a ‘barking at the moon’ schizophrenic, as Loughner most likely is.

        The guy knew he was going on a shooting spree, but be also lived in an alternate reality in which ‘conscious dreaming’ manipulated his thoughts and feelings about the world.

        I suspect ‘conscious dreaming’ was his description of the schizophrenic hallucinations he was experiencing – a disassociation from reality where his ‘dreams’ entered his waking life. His videos talk about him being a ‘sleepwalker’. In other words, he was walking around standup hallucinating all day long, and his schizoid minds interpreted that as him having discovered a new way of accessing a higher plane of reality.

        He’s even reported as having felt that his new reality was more ‘real’ than the real world. In other words, he ceased recognizing the people he was shooting as “real”.

        1. Seriously? You think a guy who believes the government uses grammer to control people’s minds ISN’T so shithouse crazy that he’s not fit to stand trial?

          Its not my opinion; its my understanding of what Legal Insanity means as a viable option for defense. Meaning, a successful Insanity defense requires meeting very specific criteria, which this guy would likely NOT meet = REGARDLESS of how shithouse crazy he is.

          Being “insane” (as he clearly is in your subjective assessment of secondhand information), is not the same as being unfit for trial or capable of defending yourself on basis of insanity. Please understand you don’t have to be “completely mentally healthy” to stand trial and be convicted of a crime.

          Someone is generally considered “not fit to stand trial” if they completely lack the ability to understand what they’ve done wrong or the nature of the proceedings against them, or are physically incapacitated such that they will never be conscious of the nature of the trial (e.g. suffered brain damage, are severly retarded, etc). In most cases there’s either a summary ruling, or person is committed until such time as deemed fit to stand trial.

          You may think the secondhand descriptions of his illness and personality quirks make him clearly Too Nuts to be convicted, but I think you’re missing the point: he only needs to be considered sane enough to understand what he did and why he’s been charged. He can call his mental state ‘conscious dreaming’, but if he’s lucid enough to post dumb shit on youtube, pass basic high-school type tests, buy a gun, engage in semi-lucid conversations online, shop at wall mart, attend political rallies… well, he’s legally lucid enough to be convicted without any particular caveats regarding how @#*$& shithouse crazy he happens to be as well.

          1. Whether our current justice system considers him legally fit to stand trial isn’t really the issue.

            In my opinion, this guy, OUGHT to be considered a classic insanity defense case. A full blown schizophrenic in the midst of a psychotic episode isn’t just insane about some things.

            Schizophenia isn’t really a disease that you can comparmentalize. You can’t just be barking mad about government mind control in one aspect of you life, but perfectly sane when planning a murder. Not if yours suffering from schizophrenia.

            1. Please, “Hazel Meade”, tell us what you know about schizophrenia that gives you reason to write what you do above.

            2. Sorry Hazel, but this is where you’re wrong:

              “”Schizophenia isn’t really a disease that you can comparmentalize. You can’t just be barking mad about government mind control in one aspect of you life, but perfectly sane when planning a murder. Not if yours (sic) suffering from schizophrenia.

              I don’t know if you read that earlier post where I mentioned I’ve lived with schizo family member for over a decade… and have known over a dozen others older and younger… but the deal is: yes, many many people suffer from schizophrenia and *do* compartmentalize it. And even if you believe the government is involved in “mind control”…even if they suffer continued delusions… there are parts of their minds that don’t all go equally to shit – a core one being their fundamental awareness of Right and Wrong. Just because a person thinks people are all being controlled by Smurfs inside their skulls doesnt mean they de facto start collecting them with a claw-hammer. Even sans medication, many heavy schizo people manage autonomous lives without going completely homeless and fucked up. Although in truth, thats where many do end up… no one like the medication much.

              My point is… well, my point is, you don’t really know what you’re talking about re: the illness, in general, or especially in this specific case (no one really does…aside from the fact that he did write a note saying he planned to ‘assassinate’ the congressperson, which i would think would provide some basis for assuming he understood what he was doing in context) Perhaps more importantly, you should look closer at the requirements of the law for an insanity defense/declaring someone unfit for trial. Not picking on you, just saying you misunderstand the criteria for fitness to be tried in a criminal court.


              “”Mere presence of severe disturbance (a psychopathological criterion) is only a threshold issue- -it must be further demonstrated that such severe disturbance in this defendant, facing these charges, in light of existing evidence, anticipating the substantial effort of a particular attorney with a relationship of known characteristics, results in the defendant being unable to rationally assist the attorney or to comprehend the nature of the proceedings and their likely outcome“”

              Of course, there’s more to it than that, if you want to do some reading…


              Simply put, ‘crazy’ doesn’t mean they’re not competent to be tried.

          2. Doesn’t he have to also understand right from wrong? That is, if God or space aliens told him he needed to shoot some people to fix the bad grammar of the universe (or whatever), and he believed he was doing something good by shooting people, wouldn’t he then be found not guilty by reason of mental defect?

            1. Geotpf|1.12.11 @ 5:58PM|#
              Doesn’t he have to also understand right from wrong?

              No. He has to be conscious of what he did, understand that it was against the law, and be able to assist a lawyer in his defense (i.e. answer questions; understand decisions made on his behalf, agree or disagree rationally – e.g. regarding a plea, etc).

              He can sincerely argue what he did was save the future from nuclear annihilation …


              …it doesn’t matter as far as the law is concerned.

        2. Seriously? You think a guy who believes the government uses grammer to control people’s minds ISN’T so shithouse crazy that he’s not fit to stand trial?

          Switch “government” with “patriarchy” and you’ve got the mindset of at least two feminists I’ve met over the years.

        3. I have seen nothing yet to suggest that, according to the Research Diagnostic Criteria I was taught in psychiatry in the mid-to-late 1970s, this guy had either an affective disorder or schizophrenia. His ideas may be odd or be in some sense disorderly, but I see no formal thought disorder. His affect does not appear to be blunted or inappropriate. I haven’t heard of his exhibitng any first-rank signs of Schneider.

          Laying aside psychoses, the only neurosis I was taught about that would commonly be considered “crazy” was obsessive compulsion, and he doesn’t seem to have that either.

          This is just somebody with strange ideas and a will strong enough to attempt to impose them by force.

        4. I suspect ‘conscious dreaming’ was his description of the schizophrenic hallucinations he was experiencing – a disassociation from reality where his ‘dreams’ entered his waking life. His videos talk about him being a ‘sleepwalker’. In other words, he was walking around standup hallucinating all day long,

          If that were true, that would be a first rank sign of Schneider. However, I think you misinterpret what he called conscience, not conscious, dreaming.

    3. A mental institution is not necessarily kinder. It is more comfortable, but the patients are forced to take mind numbing medications that they don’t choose. Would you rather have less privacy and less comfort but enjoy sobriety, or would you rather spend your life forcibly doped up in a place that resembles a boarding school.

      1. That would sort of depend on whether I’m suffering from a mental illness, wouldn’t it?

        If I’m sane, being locked in a mental ward would be horrible.

        If I’m actively experiencing psychotic hallucinations, I might come to appreciate the mind-numbing drugs.

        Also, if I’m suffering from paranoid delusions and hearing voices, being locked in a regular prison would deny me the possibility of ever experiencing life as a noraml human being.

        I’d be willing to bet that most recovered schizophrenics are a lot happier when on their meds than off them. At least the paranoid ones, anyhow. The ones who think they are Jesus Christ might not appreciate it.

        1. Hey, speak for yourself. I was sick of that God guy in my ear all the time with all that, “Go forth…” garbage.

          Plus, I finally shaved that funky beard and do better with chicks now than when I was all like, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man…” Where the @#$(*& was that coming from?? A little Zyprexa and a biology lesson later, I feel a whole lot better.

  6. Why punish him?



  7. I thought Loughner had made threats. Between that and his irratic behavior, shouldn’t that be enough to force psychiatric treatment or at least an examination?

    1. Not in a society that values freedom.

      1. Threats don’t? Even if they’re aren’t explicit enough to justify criminal charges, surely they warrant some investigation? He was obviously a paranoid schizophrenic, so combine that with threats and you get a respectable case for compelling some evaluation, treatment, or if necessarily, institutionalization.

      2. A society that values freedom would necessarily ban death threats. You should not be able to make death threats without consequence.

        1. There is the use of “terroristic threats” that can be used in threatening situations. In my experience, it is usually used in domestic violence situations.

    2. Should be enough to put him on a “no guns” list.

      1. Actually, no, you need to be convicted of something to get on any “no guns” list.

        Anyone who wants to get a gun can pretty much get one if they try.

        Doesn’t mean it is legal, tho.

        1. Felony conviction is not the only way to be made to be ineligible to own guns. Involuntarily commission to a mental institution or adjudication as mentally defective are also disqualifications for firearm ownership federally.

          It pretty much does take a court proceeding to be disqualified from owning firearms though. A simple mental illness diagnosis is not sufficient.

    3. No, Fiscal Meth, but it might be enough to charge him with harassment depending on the details.

      1. Isn’t it assault to threaten to kill someone? I may have gotten some bad info.

        1. It could be assault too depending of the details. I think one clear threat for immediate killing is assault, while a series of vague threats designed to intimidate someone is harassment.

  8. The distinction here is not is Loughner able to tell right from wrong, but is he competent to handle his own affairs. Is he, in a word, able to act in a responsible manner regardless of his ability to recognize good and evil.

    Adolescents by and large are capable of telling right from wrong, but they have difficulty acting in a mature manner. For all intents and purposes Jared Loughner can be described as provisionally mature, but he is not fully mature. If he were not, or so some people claim, schizophrenic he would have greater control over his actions. But since he is, or so some people say, mentally ill, he lacks the control over his behavior a mentally healthy person would have under most circumstances.

    So his lack of maturity plus his illness combine to produce behavior that is less mature, more impulsive than it would other wise be. So we have an individual who is sane under the legal definition, but irresponsible and impulsive psychologically. In short, a brat. Like Lindsay Lohan (who is under a conservatorship if I’m up to date where she’s concerned), Jared Loughlen is an irresponsible, immature, compulsive person who needs to be under supervision. Before we were willing to let him be, seeing him as responsible enough. Now we recognize he is not a responsible individual and are willing to place him under supervision, under a form of conservatorship.

    So the question comes down to not is Loughner able to tell right from wrong, but can he be considered mature enough to be held responsible for his actions, and all things considered I’d have to say no.

    1. Hit$Run is infested with liberal weenies. Loughner is going to trial. He won’t be committed. He probably won’t get the needle though. He should have been summarily executed at the Safeway.

    2. Wrong. Read the law. It is usually about the ability to know whether what you are doing is wrong. For example, in Texas they use the standard of whether someone can appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions.

      If I am delusional, and believe that the car of people behind me are attempting to kill me, and I act first to kill them, then I do not have the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of my actions.

      If I drown my five children in the bathtub because I believe it will save them from eternal damnation, then I do not have the ability to perceive the wrongfulness of my actions.

      This is a well established principle in the law.

      1. Wrong, read my comment. I wrote about Loughner’s immaturity, not his sanity. So far as I know, Jared Loughner is sane, but he is not mature. His impulsiveness is exacerbated by his illness, making him incompetent to handle his own affairs. While, legally speaking, he is sane, he remains immature and incapable of acting as a mature adult. It is this incompetence that means he is in need of a conservatorship.

        You, on the other hand, need to work on your reading comprehension.

        1. You need to realize that what applies here is the legal standard, not what you believe ought to apply. Maturity has nothing to do with it.

          The question is, does he have the ability to appreciate that what he was doing was wrong, at the time of the offense.

          1. re-linking the above cited reading material


            Short summary: he doesn’t even have to believe what he was doing was wrong or not. He just has to be determined competent to understand the proceedings. See above cited paragraph re: the limits of simply being ‘disturbed’

            1. This is the standard for competency to stand trial; it is separate from any consideration of guilt or innocence.

              If not competent to stand trial, the standard procedure is psychiatric commitment for treatment to try and bring him to a state of competence.

              1. as already stated above

              2. as already stated above

    3. You have your crazy Hollywood bimbos confused. Britney Spears is under conservatorship; Lindsay Lohan is merely in (and out and in again) of drug rehab.

  9. I fail to see the logical disconnect in your sex offender example. Someone can be predisposed towards doing something that they know to be wrong.

    I don’t think that the theory behind sex offender registries hinges on someone being too insane to be responsible for their future actions. I think it hinges on the idea that individuals her commit certain crimes are more likely to commit similar crimes in the future – and the registry is supposed to act as a means of protecting society from said future acts. SORegistries have nothing to do with the person being sane/insane or ‘able’ to control their actions…

    1. MP – he isnt talking about the registries, read the clarification (which may have been added as a response to your post).

  10. I’d favor the creation of psychiatric prisons for mentally ill people whose crimes stem from their mental illness. They can still serve out a term, but instead of executing them, or throwing them in with the general prison population, put them in a mental institution and put them on medication.

    1. Am I bad person for saying I would love to see the Xmas play at one of those facilities?

      1. For saying it, No. For thinking it, Probably.

      2. Heh. ~30 years ago I did see a performance of Arsenic & Old Lace at Bronx State.

    2. The crime stems from Loughner’s actions, not his “illness”

      1. And his illness didn’t have anything to do with his actions?

        Do you think he would still have shot 9 people is he wasn’t sick?

        1. Who shoots nine people and isn’t sick?

          1. People who shoot nine people who aren’t schizophrenics?

    3. We already do that…

    4. We have psychiatric prisons for mentally ill people. They already exist, and have existed for some time.

      Examples: Atascadero State Hospital in California, North Texas State Hospital (aka Vernon State Hospital) in Texas.

      1. Good. Loughner belongs in one.

        1. Why? There’s no known medical rx for bad ideas.

  11. The think about the SPLC’s report is, it completely ignores all the similarities between Loughner’s beliefs and the left. Essentially it cherry-picks elements of his beliefs that seem right-wing and ties them together to paint a particular picture, rather than taking into account the entire array of statements and facts about Loughner.

    You could theoretically do this with anyone. You could paint Giffords as either a progressive or a conservative, simply by editing her voting record and statements to include ONLY this things that tie her to the category you want to paint her as.

    1. Crap, wrong thread.

      1. Nah, they’re ALL fucking Loughner threads.

        1. Threads about fucking Loughner?!

  12. I believe Loughner is metally ill, but dangerous. Lions are not evil when they eat people, but you don’t see any lions walking around Europe anymore either.
    Loughner can spend his time in a hospital or a prison.

    At least Sullum is logical and consistent. Litwick at Slate states:
    “If it comes to pass that Clarke advances an insanity defense for her client, I wonder how many of the same people who are today arguing that Loughner was far too sick to be influenced by a toxic public discourse, will be arguing that he is too sane to plead insanity.”

    Litwick denies that she believes right wingers are the real cause of the crime appear hollow just by virute of that sentence. But let’s take what people say at face value.

    If Limbaugh (thats Litwick’s example) is part of the conspircy that wants right wingers assasinating democrats, would it include democrats who support gun ownership?
    Say that it does, would Limbaugh not want Loughner to be acquited, or get a reduced sentence? Would not the tea party be collecting for a defense fund for loughner? Be raising issues like he wasn’t read his rights, or that the sherrif has prejudiced the jury pool (Oh O! Under my principals, I do think the sherrif has come periously close to prejudicing the jury pool, the idiot)
    Are “liberals” or “tea partiers” soft on crime when democrats get shot?
    My point is that when you paint yourself into corners by saying your opponents think this or that, you end up in some pretty illogical territory.

    Ms. Litwick points out the inconsistencies of Limbaugh (I have never heard him, but I have no doubt that like most political commentary, it is full of holes and is illogical). I just wish people would start at their own principals, and see where it leads them.
    Does Ms. Litwick think the insanity defense applies, and should apply in this instance? Than have the courage to state that – and not something to the effect that right wingers influenced somebody who is probably insane but is sane enough to be influenced by the political zeitgeist to commit an assasination, but than want their guy prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

    Of course, I guess one could posit that Loughner was a good liberal, kidnapped by right wingers, Manchurian candidatized, and that way the evil right wing kills two liberals (hey, the congresswoman was not agruably liberal, but when should facts get in the way of a good conspiricy???) with one event.

  13. The question raised is that if “mental illness” made him do it, then why would we punish him?

    If you are going to argue he was mentally unstable then you have to get past the argument that he was stable enough to operate a weapon with enough accuracy to murder all these people, including a child. If you can convince me he was able to fully load and operate a 32 clip glock and be accurate enough to hit more than 50% of his targets yet he wasn’t sane enough to realize right from wrong than I’ll listen.

    That sounds like a tough argument to me.

    1. i acknowledge that is a pretty good arguement, although I am pretty sympathetic to the fact that knowing how to behave is a step above being able to function mechanically.

    2. I’m not comfortable, given what we know about his incoherent state of mind, with “punishing” him.

      However, he should go away and never be released into society again.

    3. you have to get past the argument that he was stable enough to operate a weapon with enough accuracy to murder all these people, including a child.

      Point and shoot, not that complicated. Also, mental stability =/= able to stand upright. He was schizophrenic, not drunk.

      Also, I kinda doubt he aimed at the child.

    4. Please, google “McNaughton rule”. This is a well established legal precedent, that you can be both physically capable of murder and unable to perceive that what you are doing is wrong.

      1. “you can be both physically capable of murder and unable to perceive that what you are doing is wrong.”

        I understand the precedent, but this was not a case of someone randomly opening fire on a crowd of people. This was entirely premeditated, down to the notes he wrote himself (“Die Bitch”) etc. It seems like a pretty tall hurdle to jump to argue that during this entire process of premeditation he never considered if what he was doing was either illegal or wrong. I get that he was unbalanced and clearly has some serious mental deficiencies, but at what point are those deficiencies enough to excuse you from the normal consequences of such actions in our legal framework?

        Premeditated murder is the crime of wrongfully causing the death of another human being (also known as murder) after rationally considering the timing or method of doing so, in order to either increase the likelihood of success, or to evade detection or apprehension.

        1. Well, John Hinkley clearly had the capacity to evade detection by the Secret Service and attempt to kill Ronald Reagan (and nearly succeeded). He had a considerable, well documented delusional system. Andrea Yates was also clearly delusional, but took an effort to plan her murders so that there was nobody around to stop her.

          The ability to plan your actions and act in a way to avoid capture or to avoid being stopped from acting does not rule out insanity as a defense.

          If I believe that my neighbor is a terrorist, and I act in a way to kill my neighbor to prevent him from acting as a terrorist, I may in fact be able to develop an elaborate plan to commit murder and avoid being caught. I may very well recognize that society as a whole might want to prevent me from acting, and that others might consider what I am doing as wrong. However, legally speaking, it is my own mindset at the time of my actions that are taken into consideration.

          1. The ability to plan your actions and act in a way to avoid capture or to avoid being stopped from acting does not rule out insanity as a defense.

            This is true, but this also clearly indicates premeditation. The argument (I assume) for the jury to deliberate will be if the crazy outweighs the clarity of his premeditation. Drowning babies in a bathtub is beyond delusional despite it being premeditated, but attending a specific rally/speech with the sole intent of killing one specific person for reasons that you have premeditated to the point of taking specific steps to achieve results (32 clip glock) seems less delusional.

            However, legally speaking, it is my own mindset at the time of my actions that are taken into consideration.

            It’s not just the time of the actions, it’s the time up to the actions as well that will be the evidence for a 1st/2nd degree murder conviction. I bet that as more details become available we will find out how much planning went in to this.

          2. What criteria do you use to distinguish delusions from other errors of fact?

            The criteria I was taught in med school (and I studied Psychiatry under Sierles, Abrams, and Taylor, no slouches) distinguished just one diagnostically relevant type of “crazy idea”, namely autochtonous ideas — ideas that come from nowhere, as sudden spontaneous revelations. I see no evidence this guy had those. Rather, he picked up various ideas from others and formed some of his own via analysis.

            1. Most of my experiences with patients with delusions involve a combination of internally derived ideas coupled with thoughts/memes drawn from the surrounding culture. There can be mixes of both real world and fictional content.

              Over time, delusions tend to grow as the patient fills in details. Trying to talk the patient out of a true delusion by pointing out inconsistencies and contradictions only helps to solidify the delusion by pointing out areas to be “filled in” over time. Delusions grow and change over time; the trait of being delusional is relatively fixed.

              1. I’m not saying people who are psychotic don’t have delusions; plenty of them do. I’m just saying that delusions aren’t diagnostic of psychosis, because non-psychotic people have delusions too, such that the diagnostic criteria I was taught rejected them as signs of psychosis. About the best the delusions can do is someting of purely academic value (no prognostic value or value in selecting treatment) of distinguishing different types of schizophrenia or affective disorder in a person who’s already diagnosed as having schizophrenia or an affective disorder.

  14. why punish him? cause legal insanity & mental illness are 2 diff things. duh

    1. Absolutely. The presence of a mental illness is never itself exculpatory.

  15. Hey, why don’t we side-step the whole culpability thing and just base our justice system on recidivism …

  16. If viewing something as being prevented by something else counts as an “excuse,” then by all rights if your wife is accidentally killed by a drug dealer during a shootout, your position on drug legalization would mean that you’d “excuse” the drug dealer’s responsibility in causing your wife’s death. After all, had drugs been legal, he wouldn’t have been in a shootout and your wife would still be alive.

  17. If so?if Loughner truly was not in control of his actions?how is it just to punish him?

    Confinement/imprisonment is not only about justice. Revenge, making an example, protection of others, are all legitimate reasons. In this case it is about protection. He has demonstrated that he is a danger, so there is no choice.

  18. Arizona has some kind of “guilty but insane” law that allows someone to be placed in a mental institution until they are “cured” then serve their sentence in a prison (or, presumably, be executed). Maybe someone here knows more about that.

    1. I think that is fairly common – the GBMI verdict (guilty but mentally insane)… its hard to get info on all the states that have it, but at first glance it appears to be around 15+. Can’t tell if arizona is one of them.

      Someone should clarify – I believe, but am not sure, that you can only get a GBMI if you first plea Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity… If you simply plea guilty or not…I don’t think it can be considered. meaning, unless you raise the issue of mental condition as an essential part of defense, its not an option. Or is it? I dunno.

      From what I see here it is actually worse than a straight up guilty conviction. It ensures a sort of double-whammy; one, you’re held in criminally-insane condition, which is more restrictive than regular old jail, and you also lose any rights to represent yourself or be considered for parole for good behavior, etc. You lose any normal rights even as a convict. Even after serving a sentence you’re still compelled to be involuntarily committed, albeit in a civil institution. Basically, it seems to have been introduced to provide jurors with multiple options of Guilty when someone pleads insane… thus nullifying reducing the potential for aquittal over niggling vagueness in the accused’s mental condition.

      I think its probably better understood as “Guilty AND Mentally Insane”… not ‘but’ so much.

    2. oh, i totally missed you mentioning Arizona IS one of them… 🙂 Even though it was the first thing you said. I must be losing it.

      But I think you got the issues backward: you serve in a prison facility FIRST (under special conditions as ‘criminally insane’) – and then afterwards are committed to a slightly less-prisony medical institution until a doctor considers you not dangerously batshit crazy. They don’t try and ‘cure’ you, then punish you. 🙂 First punish, then cure…

    3. Looks like he will be tried in Federal court first (shooting any Federal employee (such as a Congresswoman and a Federal Judge) gives them jurisdiction). Whether or not he then later gets tried in state court is unknown at this point.

  19. Reincarnation solves all problems — it is the ultimate do-over.

    1. Apparently, so does reincarceration.

  20. I think this raises a larger question of what are prisons for anyway? They don’t rehabilitate anyone, so letting anyone out of prison is a huge risk.

    This touches on several issues, such as how far too many non-violent people are imprisoned (b/c of the drug war, for example).

    You could argue that crimes are only done by people who have a mental illness or negative influence (dysfunctional family, bad neighborhood) of some sort. In that light, prison is a horrible and inhumane place for ANYONE.

    But mental health is a very uncomfortable issue for society to deal with. So it’s just easier to believe that people are evil and should be locked away.

    I think people like Judy Clarke (Loughner’s federal public defender) are the heroes of society, the few who dare to see the grey areas of the human condition. If only we all were so brave.

    1. I think this raises a larger question of what are prisons for anyway?

      Ideally, prisons are for removing people from regular society who break the laws we have established. Obviously there is a strong argument to be made that if people aren’t harming anyone else but themselves then they shouldn’t be locked up, but it’s pretty easy to make the argument that a guy like Loughner needs to be isolated from society so that he doesn’t kill anyone else.

      IF you have another way of preventing violent psychopaths from killing innocent people other than locking them up, I’m all ears.

    2. You can be “mentally ill” and evil at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive.

      1. Why do you keep employing quotation marks when referring to mental illness?

        Just wondering.

      2. I don’t think we’ve separated the mental illness from the evil yet.

        Not every schizophrenic is violent. But not every violent schizophrenic is just evil.

        It’s entirely possible to have a schizophrenic do something violent when having a psychotic episode without that person being “evil”.

        And we havn’t established that the guy, separated from his insanity, is “evil”.

      3. Come on, even the churches gave up calling mentally ill/insane people “evil” well over a century ago.

        At least join us in the twentieth century.

    3. I think this raises a larger question of what are prisons for anyway?

      Good one. I don’t think it pays to restrain anyone who isn’t acutely agitated. I can’t see the good in putting people away for longer than, say, 90 days at a stretch. If punishment is the object, there are cheaper and more efficient ways to accomplish that, such as by infliction of pain. If restraint is the object, and you really, really think you need to restrain someone for longer than 90 days, then I think you have to judge the need as permanent, and either put the person to death or cripple the person.

  21. No, he deserves the death penalty. Remember that saying, “your freedom ends where my nose begins”? Well, he certainly violated the freedoms of the people he shot, so why should the taxpayers get stuck paying for his treatment at a state-of-the-art facility for mental deficient? No. I say give him death and save the taxpayers money.

    1. Can we trust you to do the job?

  22. It’s always interesting when libertarians who regularly point out that the government cannot be trusted to deliver a letter to the correct address should have the decision over who merits death.

    1. I don’t think they should have that decision. Loughner deserves to be killed. I expect the government to just lock him up indefinitely.

    2. Many libertarians are against the death penalty for exactky this reason.

    3. I think the mainstream libertarian position is anti-death-penalty.

      SIV is a libertarian-leaning Republican.

      1. SIV is convinced he knows better than you, without knowing what you know.

  23. The ability to commit someone, on the basis of a mental illness, usually depends on possible threat to self and/or others as well as inability to care for oneself. The statutes are different in different states.

    The concept of criminal responsibility is handled differently in each state but usually infers ability to understand the criminal nature of the act. Technically, this should also include the ability to control one’s actions to prevent the criminal act.

    The more one knows about neuroscience, evolutionary biology, child development, psychiatry and the influence of culture, the less one can invoke free will as a component of culpability. The difficulties of a not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) defense are due to public ignorance about these factors, in combination with a need for containment and a demand for vengeance.

  24. “Mental illness” is used too often as an explanation for violence. The average person in a psychiatric ward has never been violence. The average violent criminal has never seen a psychiatrist. Folks invoke the mental illness paradigm and call incarceration “treatment” instead of “punishment” so that they can feel safe by locking others up without feeling guilt over handing out punishment.

  25. I wrote an op-ed on how to reform NGRI in WSJ that is relevant here…..96436.html
    John Stuart Mills, in his essay “On Liberty”, defined the very concept of ‘civil liberties’:

    The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle.?(T)hat principle is that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.

    But then he went on to say,

    It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say that this doctrine is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties?Those who are still in a state to require being taken care of by others, must be protected against their own actions as well as against external injury.”
    Clearly that applies to people with mental illness, and it has always been odd to me that Libertarians haven’t picked this up

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