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Insanity–Burden of Proof, 14 Central Law Journal 2 (1882)


The defense interposed in the Guiteau case has served to direct attention to the law of insanity in criminal cases, to an extent hitherto unknown. The acquittal of Sickles in the District of Columbia, and of Cole, and of McFarland in New York, served to create a public sentiment which has been constantly growing, and which, looking upon the defense of insanity as a "dodge," demands that the law shall be strictly construed, and so rigid a rule laid down as shall make it impossible that such a defense should be successful, unless the prisoner was unquestionably insane. The danger is, that in laying down the rule so rigidly, the actually insane may be unjustly convicted. Such a result is to be avoided, unless we are prepared to act upon the theory advanced by some, that a murderer should be executed whether he be sane or insane. We do not believe that such a theory will find favor to any extent. "Without reference to sentiment or ideas of duty," as an eminent gentleman recently said, "or to any philosophical reasoning whatever, it is practically impossible for a civilized nation to deliberately and consistently inflict the highest punishment of responsible crime on irresponsible lunatics, or to shoot them down as wild bulls running through the streets; for to do this we must ourselves first become rebarbarized; the weapon of our defense would burst in our hands–we should destroy our civilization in the very effort to save it."

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