Friday, December 31, 2004

Texas' insanity defense examined

AP this morning examines Texas' insanity defense, as analyzed in the Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee's Interim Report. Here's what they found:

"the insanity defense is used in 1 percent of felony cases and is seldom successful. The committee said 26 percent of those who claim insanity are deemed insane and acquitted.

"Insanity statutes were stiffened by many states and the federal government after John Hinckley's acquittal by reason of insanity for shooting and wounding President Reagan in 1981.


"The committee said that the nation "grew impatient" with the insanity defense and that more than 30 states, including Texas, tightened and amended their statutes. Five states -- Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada and Utah -- abolished the defense, according to the report.


"'The idea that many people are saying they are insane and getting away with their crimes is silly,' said David Haynes, a lawyer representing Dena Schlosser, charged with capital murder last month for allegedly cutting off the arms of her 10-month-old daughter in Plano. 'That just doesn't happen,' said Haynes."


Even if one is declared not guilty by reason of insanity, that doesn't get them set free. The article notes that, once a person has been declared insane in Texas, they must be held for 30 days in custody, then a judge evaluates them annually to determine if they're ready to be released. In Dallas, such an inmate was left alone in a jail cell for two weeks without food or water while waiting for an annual judge's determination; that man has been held for 26 years in a state hospital without ever being convicted.