February 05, 2017

Friday group reading on insanity sources

Please could everyone look at an Old Bailey trial involving insanity or the insanity plea - considering in particular how the defendant was diagnosed as insane (or not).

Then at the following sources:

Dan and Ella - Hume

Anna S and Robin - Queen v McNaghten

Anna B and Kieran - Davey

Helen and Victoria - Fraser's magazine

Lewis and Alice - Forbes Winslow

Ellie, Rachel and James - Broadmoor rules and Bethlem records (note not all the latter are digitised. The ones that are have 'Image' next to them in the catalgoue. eg see: http://archives.museumofthemind.org.uk/HPA.htm#HPA-22)


- 11 comments by 6 or more people

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  1. Anna Soppelsa

    Queen vs McNaghten

    Daniel McNaghten, a woodturner from Scotland, assassinated English civil servant Edward Drummond whilst suffering from, ‘morbid delusions’, in January of 1843. Meaning to shoot the Prime Minister at the time, Robert Peel, McNaghten failed to identify him and accidentally shot Drummond, Peel’s personal secretary, instead. Several weeks later, Drummond died from his injuries. At the trial, witnesses testified about McNaghten’s mental state and, consequently, he was found not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

    The verdict led to a public outcry about the insanity defence, leading to a number of questions being posed by the House of Lords to the British judiciary. Particular questions considered were: what is the proper standard for insanity and what should the proper role of the medical professional be? With the latter, the idea of how much knowledge a medical professional could offer concerning an individual they had never previously met was seen as important.

    The result was the McNaghten Rules in Britain which stated, “to establish the defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know, that he did not know he was doing was wrong’. Clearly, the condition of the mind and ability to think coherently is key here. To further bolster this view, the rules go on to state the party accused is, ‘punishable according to the nature of the crime committed if he knew at the time of committing such crime that he was acting contrary to the law’. The idea of cognition, once again, is integral.

    Interestingly, intent is also a primary factor in deciding a verdict. The rules go on to state that a man, ‘under the influence of delusion’, who supposes another is, ‘attempting to take away his life’, and kills this man in self-defense would be exempt of punishment. If his delusion, on the other hand, was that another man had, ‘inflicted a serious injury to his character’, and he killed him, ‘in revenge’, he would be liable for punishment. The delusions the person in question is experiencing, no matter if they have no control over them, play a large role in deciding their sentence. This idea seems to be at odds with the previous concept in the rule which stated the importance of the condition of the mind at which the crime is committed.

    05 Feb 2017, 17:25

  2. Kieran Sargent

    J. G. Davey, Plea for Insanity. Anniversary Meeting of the Provincial Medical and Surgical Association, Manchester 1854. The piece opens with an alluding to the changing opinion of medical professionals and their subsequent desire for legal professionals to adopt said views on insanity. Davey acknowledges the split with regards to legal and medical professionals with regards to diminished responsibility, arguing that legal professionals were ‘unacquainted with the works of God’. This implies a shift in the medical profession in the nature of their role in the judicial process, based around one of the ‘promotion of scientific truth’. Davey suggests that without this, is it possible to have justice?

    The dialogue acts as a call to the Provincial Association to pledge for reforms in the ‘plea for insanity’ in accordance with medical recommendations. He frequently brings up the question of insanity and responsibility. Is one responsible if he was medically deemed insane? Does this limit the overall responsibility? The document shows a greater willingness to uncover the problems in the current state of the justice system from an offender’s perspective. Davey outlines two important matters for the psychologist in the proceedings. One having reference to partial insanity and the other, the delusions of the insane. There is an apparent impossibility in measuring the full extent insanity, acknowledging that some cases could be incomprehensible or immeasurable.

    He then goes on to distinguish between delusion and insanity, stating that delusion is not a cause of insanity. Instead, it is a criterion of the extent of the mental disorder, but it is never the delusion that prompts the insanity. In this sense, punishment cannot change the pathological condition of the brain. I found it interesting that the judges did not reply to the question regarding the jury’s responsibility in finding an offender insane or not. Nonetheless, partial insanity and delusions are treated the same as those of mind according to the legal profession of this time. Lawyers are able, under law, to manipulate medical testimony in accordance with their case. The law, at this point in time, privileges rhetoric over fact.

    06 Feb 2017, 16:05

  3. Helen Oakes

    ‘Moral Insanity: Dr Mayo’s Croonian Lectures’, Frasers Magazine, March 1855

    This magazine started in the 1830s when it took a strong Tory line- it was a general/literary journal. In line with this, the text discusses the impunity of the criminally insane in the eyes of the law, citing the work of ‘Thomas Mayo’s Croonian Lectures on Medical Testimony and Evidence in Cases of Lunacy’. Dr Mayo takes issue with the idea of moral insanity, believing that since Dr Prichard’s treatise, it became common practice to find a verdict of acquittal, due to the wider scope of insanity. Dr Mayo also spoke of three main points regarding the insanity plea:
    1. Moral insanity is too ambiguous as a term
    2. There should be a secondary form of punishment for the insane
    3. The jury/court should be able to examine the party whose mental state is in question

    He claims that the insanity defence is a danger to the general public, and says that the insane can ‘resist the devil’ as asylum-keepers are able to keep their asylums in order.

    Interestingly, the text also mentions the idea that cases of lunacy and insanity are prevalent in ‘the Anglo-Saxon race’, suggesting that this was a British problem. The article asserted that this may be due in part to climate, but also made the point that agricultural districts yielded a greater number of lunatics than manufacturing districts.

    07 Feb 2017, 15:50

  4. Ella Rees

    David Hume, Commentaries on the Laws of Scotland (1814), pp. 3-8
    • David Hume (1785-1838) was a Scottish judge and legal scholar.
    o He was educated at both Glasgow and Edinburgh University and his work on Scottish criminal law and private law was incredibly influential.
    • In his Commentaries on the Laws of Scotland he assesses criminal cases in which insanity has been pleaded.
    o Hume criticises this though and suggests that insanity is pleaded as a way to get a lighter sentence and to excuse actions in cases when they should not be excused.
    • He believes that with some cases, madness is only revealed upon the performance of the crime.
    o Therefore the accused often has not been considered to have a background of insanity.
     For instance the case of James Cummings demonstrates this in 1810.
     He was a soldier who had received a head injury but was reported to have fully recovered before enlisting and becoming a soldier.
     He was described as a solitary man but easily affected by liquor.
     However he is charged with murder when he was on duty and teased by a fellow soldier who he proceeded to chase.
     He then ended up killing another soldier who was in his way when chasing the other.
     Although this was murder, since the jury found him to be insane this acted in his favour.
    • Hume states that, ‘On the whole, I cannot but question the justice and the safety of sustaining the plea of this lower degree of inferiority of the mind’.
    o Illustrates how he regards the judicial system as inadequate for it can easily be persuaded to give lighter sentences if the person pleads insanity.
    • Hume argues that the challenge society faces is for men to learn how to withstand and control sudden rage which he attributes as the cause for most of the cases he discusses.
    o For instance, Alexander Campbell in 1809 was involved in two highway robberies.
    o However the jury agreed he had a weakness of intelligence and therefore instead of receiving the original punishment which was a death sentence, he procured a transportation for 6 months.
    • Overall because mental illness was a very ambiguous matter in the early nineteenth century it was difficult to diagnose mental illness and at the same time it was difficult to dispute it when people acted uncharacteristically.
    • Such verdicts are rather unsurprising when considering that before 1843, the insane were frequently judged by opinion of an individual simply deemed to be ‘sound of mind’ by the court; even the physicians used as expert witnesses often had little or no training concerning the psychological aspects of the human mind.
    o The text clearly shows that knowledge of mental illness at the time was limited, making it difficult to come to a firm and uncontested diagnosis.

    08 Feb 2017, 18:42

  5. Dan Ewers

    David Hume, Commentaries on the Laws of Scotland (1814), pp. 3-8.

    Hume outlines a number of case studies involving the insanity plea within his commentary (which I will summarise below):

    David Hunter 13 March 1801 – trial for murder, Dr Munro argued he was incapable of judging the propriety of his actions, insanity plea sustained following trial

    Alexander Campbell 18 December 1809 – trial for two counts of highway robbery, assize “unanimously recommend… to mercy on account of a certain degree of weakness of intellect’, he had a sentence to death on 7 February 1810 but a transportation pardon was procured

    Robert Robertson 12 March 1810 – trial for murder, found by jury that he murdered man but ‘from the insane state of the pannel’s mind that he was not guilty of feloniously murdering him’

    James Cummings 12 January 1810 – previous head injury from falling stone, worked as a soldier, quiet temperament, ‘easily affected by liquor’, one night drinks a lot and chases a man and a woman with a bayonet – both escape but kills King, another soldier, jury found him insane at time of act committed – Hume argues here that it should have been a conviction and that sudden violence or irritation from liquor should not be a defence in the court

    William Gates 30 August / 21 November 1811 – trial for shooting wife with musket, insanity pleaded in bar of trial but court repelled objection, evidence that ‘it appeared that liquor and consequent irritability of temper had a considerable share in the deed’, temperament when sober was examined and he was found to be in ‘state of mental derangement’

    Pierce Hoskins 23 April 1812 – trial for murder of his four-year-old boy, murder committed in ‘drunken fury’, claimed it was done in ‘temporary fit of insanity’
    Hume criticises those who plead insanity who are not alienated from reason – he says it is not correct to avoid punishment for fits of rage of vice of disposition

    John Gardener 7 October 1811 – trial for rape, Gardener found ‘subject to fits of insanity and is not a proper object of punishment’ – Hume argues this does not specify accused state of mind during incident, nor the nature of these fits, and makes inference as to no punishment, Gardener was absolved of all crimes.

    Hume closes by noting that provision was made for safe-keeping of Cummings, Robertson, and Gates

    09 Feb 2017, 10:52

  6. Victoria Rowedder

    Fraser Magazine:
    Fraser’s magazine follows three prominent trials that Dr Mayo played a pivotal role in as the medical witness. The source was written in 1855 by a magazine who was notorious for their Tory stance. The article cites ‘Dr Mayo’s lectures’ throughout the piece in order to come to a greater understanding of the role of a medical witness within cases of criminal insanity. He describes mental illness as being ambiguous yet readily diagnosed and placed the insane under the following headings:
    • Disorders of the feelings and propensities
    • Delusions or hallucinations
    • General derangement
    • Mixed forms, in which two or more symptoms are combined
    • A state of imbecility or fatuity
    It is with the first heading that Dr Mayo critiques as ‘moral insanity’ was placed under this heading. ‘Moral insanity’ is something the Dr Mayo finds too ambiguous a term, and tends to believe it is a term widely used in criminal proceedings on order for individuals to have a strong ‘insanity plea’. Furthermore, Dr Mayo believe ‘moral insanity’ was a construction set up to excuse a crime.
    Dr Mayo also critiques the environment in which medical witnesses are thrown into within the courtroom. Medical witnesses are often summoned to the courts and pressed by the judge to arrive at certain conclusions. Dr Mayo describes it as being the job of the medical witness to not let the judge encroach on his functions.
    Dr Mayo has a further issue was ‘temporary insanity’, where individuals claim to have been ‘under the influence of a temporary frenzy’. Mayo argues that this accounts for many criminals desire to commit crime and that it can’t be used as an agent to shield people from the sword of the law. Unless there were circumstances surrounding the crime that were irrespective of the enormity of the crime itself, the prisoner should not be acquitted on the insanity defence.
    Fraser Magazine then follows three prominent cases where medical witnesses were deployed. In all the cases mentioned there is a large emphasis on judging whether someone was insane at the time of the criminal act, and whether it affected their judgment of right and wrong.

    My Chosen Source: Old Bailey – Case of Anne Cherry
    I focused on the Old Bailey trial of Anne Cherry, who despite being found guilty of the act was pardoned out of the grounds of having an unsound mind. Cherry was accused of wilfully throwing her baby out of her window with the intent of causing death. This source powerfully shows the authority that medical superintendents held when it came to the insanity plea. It is clear from the eyewitness accounts that Anne Cherry was culpable in throwing her child over her balcony. The testimonies in such cases are seemingly pushing towards an insanity verdict, with witnesses claiming Cherry had exclaimed ‘No, I felt so dazed, I was mad!’ Yet such testimonies held little weight without the backing of a medical superintendent. Herbert Larder was the medical superintendent of the Whitechapel infirmary and he described the prisoner as not appearing to understand what he was saying and that she suffered from a ‘highly nervous temperament’. Drawing the conclusion that she therefore was likely to have been suffering from ‘puerperal mania’. So despite the inspector viewing her as guilty of the act given her somewhat frank confession, the medical opinion outweighed the legal one.

    09 Feb 2017, 11:49

  7. Robin Sykes

    Queen vs McNaghten:

    This source is an excerpt of the trial of Daniel M’Naghten, a Scottish woodturner, who in 1843 shot the Prime Minister’s private Secretary, Edward Drummond. M’Naghten believed he was being persecuted by the Tories and subsequently had set out to murder the then Prime Minister, Robert Peel, but, unable to identify Peel from behind, Drummond was the unfortunate victim. When the case was brought to trial, M’Naghten pleaded not guilty with witnesses testifying to his mental state at the time he committed this act of murder.

    He was subsequently found not guilty on the grounds of insanity which created a public outcry regarding the insanity defence and the issue was debated in the House of Lords. This debate led to a number of questions being posed to the British judiciary from the House of Lords. Responses to which were crafted into the M’Naghten Rules in Britain. These questions included: What was the proper standard for insanity? What questions should be posed to the Jury, and how should the jury be instructed? What is the proper role of the medical professional? These questions are all answered in depth in this excerpt.

    The most important result of this case was the wording of the McNaghten standard for insanity: ‘to establish a defence on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was labouring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.’ The wording of this is especially significant with the ‘M’Naghten Standard’ remaining the most prevalent standard in the United States today.

    09 Feb 2017, 11:57

  8. Ellie Martin

    http://archives.museumofthemind.org.uk/image_viewer.htm?HPA-23,1

    Portrait of M.B., a female criminal patient diagnosed with apoplectic mania and charged with infanticide 1857

    When looking at this image, its interesting to see how the woman is portrayed. She is sat in an armchair, and is wearing traditional reserved female clothing emphasising her femininity and domesticity. Lots of other images in this collection depict women partaking in domestic activities such as sewing. It is hard to really comment on whether these images offer us a better insight into the diagnosis of the patient, or whether we can say that this woman ‘looks like a criminal.’ Following the growth in theories of degeneracy in the history of mental health, we can see how photographing patients was starting to become part of the diagnostic process, particularly its growing involvement with the use of recognising the criminally insane. Bethlem was not specifically established as a criminal institution, but it was utilised as one until appropriate provisions were made. Recognition of throwing all those classed as ‘mad’ into the same place without recognition of differences?

    Broadmoor Rules
    Sets out the expectations of the Super-Intendant and other attending officers at the Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Must be a member of the school of Physicians, thereby demonstrating a relationship between the medical and the criminal. Reviewing patients daily, and keeping accurate records on each one. 13. Investigating complaints from patients as well as attendants – demonstrating the rights of the criminally insane? Professionalisation and medicalisation of mental health treatment.

    General rules = moral management process. Emphasis on the moral treatment of patients: fusion of medicine and non-medicinal treatments. Entertainment, kindness, routine, exercise, diet. TUKE – York Retreat.

    09 Feb 2017, 13:17

  9. Alice Norton

    Forbes Winslow, The Plea of Insanity in Criminal Cases, 1843

    • Aims to convey the correct notion of the present state of the law in relation to the pleas of insanity in criminal cases. Uses a number of case studies to give examples of sentences for particular instances.
    • To do justice, it is absolutely requisite that not only the medical men examined, but that the judges and the jury should be well informed on the subject of insanity.
    • Distinguishes between general/partial insanity
    • Considers drunkards not generally responsible for acts committed when in a state of intoxication
    • People have been known to commit crimes when sleep walking- perplexing to medial jurists- stories in which someone was suddenly roused by a frightful dream and known to take away someone’s life meanwhile- good exculpating please- however, these cases can be easily simulated.
    • Example: Bernard Schedmaizig suddenly woke at midnight; at that moment he saw a frightful phantom or what his imagination represented as such. Raised a hatches and attacked- turned out that it was, in fact, his wife
    • Insanity CANNOT be defined
    • Distinguishes between civil and criminal insanity (p.40- struggled to understand this part)
    • Collinson- ‘To excuse the man in the commission of a crime, he must at the period when he committed the offence, have been wholly incapable of distinguishing between good or evil and of comprehending the nature of what he was doing’.
    • Lord Coke- ‘when a madman is executed, but should be a miserable spectacle both against the law and of extreme inhumanity and cruelty, and can be no example to others’- links to Foucault Discipline and Punish?
    • Various species of insanity
    • Example: Dr Michu- country woman who wanted to kill her family. She loved them dearly by whenever she entered a room with them in, she was possessed with a desire to murder them all- she was ‘gloomy, depresses and ashamed of her situation’.
    • Example: The following case of homicidal insanity excited much attention in France- excited the medical profession. Henriette Cornier- was a house maid that had always loved children, she began to express signs of insanity and was dismissed from her job. She was later entrusted with taking the neighbours baby for a walk by severed the head of the baby with no remorse. Her 1826 trail found her guilty and sentenced her to hard labour for life.
    • The general distinction between crime and insanity is that crime is generally premeditated- the criminal conceals his intention, secures the means of escape, does his best to avoid detection.
    • Insanity is often expressed through a desire to commit suicide initially, and followed by a desire to kill other people.
    • Murderers generally have accomplices in vice and crime; there are assignable inducement which led to its commission, motives of self-interest, revenge
    • Distinguishing between insanity and feigned insanity was easy for the expert. ‘Persons conversant with the peculiarities of disordered mind, who have been the habit of observing the manner of the insane, will have but little difficulty in detecting real from feigned derangement’- Georget
    • Those that are insane tend to be indignant at manifestation of the slightest suspicion of insanity, whereas those that are not tend to overplay their insanity.

    09 Feb 2017, 14:02

  10. Anna

    J. G. Davey, ‘Plea of Insanity’, British Medical Journal, Vol. 2, No. 91 (Sep. 29, 1854), pp. 879-882
    Judges and law authorities must adapt their preconceived understandings of insanity to that of medical science – Davey ‘we medical men’ going from a medical standpoint
    Medical professionals are not going to allow legal people to determine insanity- cannot bring true justice
    Argues that the questions that are currently being used as ridiculous and ineffective
    If a party a wrong act when labouring under the idea of redressing a supposed grievance or injury, or under the impression of obtaining some public or private benefit, he was liable to punishment.”
    There are two important matters for the psychologist embraced in the preceding; the one having reference to partial insanity or monomania; the other, to the delusions of the insane.
    he judges are bold men; they see no difficulty in defining the marginal line of sanity and of responsibility, however difficult, the psychologist may deem it- legal procedure not informed by the medical
    If an apple had a speck in it, however small, would it be right to call that apple a sound one? Brain should be treated the same as other organs
    The delusions of the insane express only the nature of the predominant feelings, and are always in harmony with the morbid affection originating them. A delusion, then, it is seen, is only an , and not a cause, of ‘perverted feeling, or uncontrollable impulse to violence
    Must account everything to the insanity
    Delusions= temporary and fleeting nature- hard to gauge
    That ever man shall be considered of=sane mind, until it was clearly proved in evidence to the contrary.
    however quiet and comfortable such persons may usually be when protected from the anxieties and irritations of life, and when subject to the kind and considerate dictations of those under whose care
    they are placed, they are no sooner removed from such wholesome influences than the brain necessarily rebels with the stimuli offered to it.
    “Nothing could justify a wrong act, except it was clearly proved that the party did not know. right from wrong,” – the insanity or delusion must have rendered the criminal unaware of their actions for the plea to seem justified
    Davey argues that- the ” plea of insanity” was not fully developed at this time. It was disjointed, as it contrasted the facts of psychological science. ‘On a future occasion, I may endeavour to show how so objectionable a state of things may be remedied, and how the plea of insanity and medical philosophy may be made to harmonise, and thus promote the ends and objects of law and justice’ Legal and medical theory need to co-operate and work together in order for it to be effective

    09 Feb 2017, 17:32

  11. Lewis Boyce

    In his piece Forbes Winslow discusses the limitations and problems of an insanity plea used in court as a legal defence. At first he cites a Lord Coke, Mansfield and Erskine and their various definitions of insanity, which focus predominantly on the ability of the subject to distinguish right from wrong and if they qualify as a responsible agent.

    Then he discusses the more nuanced arguments regarding insanity in the legal sphere, using many examples of relevant cases. Whether the subject suffers from partial insanity is address, and also the nature of the bouts of insanity. He states that a fit of insanity can only absolve the subject of responsibility if the insanity is proved to be the very cause of the act. Where they insane from birth? Did they show previous signs of madness? If the insanity was temporary, did the subject still have control of their actions?

    Winslow seems to conclude that the primary trait of insanity is that of delusions – a total deprivation of memory and understanding. A man can appear sane and of sound intellectual and moral mind, but still suffer from delusions. Notably he refers to different types of insanity as different ‘species’ of mental derangement, and also compares the mercy given to youths and the mercy given to the insane.

    He also discusses moral insanity, and how to draw the line between extreme moral depravity and insanity. Mentioned also are times when the mind is not itself, but insanity is not present, like sleepwalking, drunkenness, or delirium, ultimately deciding that this state does not leave one innocent of their actions.

    In his concluding thoughts, he notes the progression that has been made, and that using old thoughts on insanity from the likes of Lord Coke etc. is not useful, and that insanity itself escapes definition, and that medical professionals should aim to not define it in court, and only comment on whether the subject had control of their actions, not whether they could determine right from wrong. In his final words he concludes that madness should not exonerate one from the responsibility of their actions.

    09 Feb 2017, 21:26


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