The Insanity Defense – Two Successful Examples And The Necessary Proof

What are some of the most unusual insanity defenses you have heard of? Below are two examples of insanity defenses that worked. Do you think they would work where you live?

Irresistible Impulse

A woman alleged that her husband had raped her on the night of June 23, 1993. She claimed that her husband had come home after an evening of drinking and sexually assaulted her. When he was sleeping, she went into the kitchen, grabbed a carving knife and cut off his penis.

During her trial, she further alleged that her husband had abused her (both emotionally and physically) for many years. She claimed that she "couldn't help herself" and "just snapped" on that fateful night. Her defense team also supported her arguments by saying that the woman was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the constant abuse. An expert witness even testified that it was her temporary insanity that resulted in that irresistible impulse.

The outcome? She was acquitted due to temporary insanity and irresistible impulse.

It Was the Matrix

In July 2002, a woman shot her landlady several times in the head. When she was charged with murder, she attributed her actions to the blockbuster Matrix movie. The woman claimed that she shot the landlady because she believed that the woman was part of a global conspiracy of brainwashing and murder.

In fact, she claimed that the world is not real, but rather an illusion created by these brainwashers. Her theory was that the landlady (as part of a four-member gang) was controlling her mind and that she couldn't tell the difference between dreams and reality. In the end, she was also acquitted of murder charges due to insanity.  

These defenses may seem absurd, but they are actually based on tenets of criminal law. However, the next time you are charged with a criminal offense, you shouldn't just rush for an insanity defense. This is because the insanity defense only works if you can prove either of these things (depending on your jurisdiction):

  • You had a disease of the mind that prevented you from understanding what you were doing, or prevented you from knowing whether it was right or wrong.
  • You had a mental disease that made your actions uncontrollable.
  • You have a diagnosed mental defect that made you fail to understand your action or its criminality.
  • Your mental defect, regardless of your clinical diagnosis, is what caused your criminal acts.

As you can see, these are not easy things to prove. Moreover, there are also some states that do not allow insanity defense against all or some criminal charges. Therefore, the best thing to do is to have a strong defense team, like that offered by James S. Dostal.