Are Insane Acts Not Crimes by Definition?

I get that the law is full of technical distinctions and processes to determine how they apply in specific instances, but the outcome of a patricide and attempted matricide in Tiverton really emphasizes the strange conclusion to which such legal findings lead
Joel Beaulieu was found not guilty by reason of insanity because he “suffers from schizoaffective disorder, which can result in manic and depressive episodes, loss of contact with reality, and inability to distinguish right from wrong.”

According to court documents, in the days that preceded the attack, Beaulieu, who at the time lived with his parents, had trouble sleeping, was paranoid with violent impulses and had auditory hallucinations. …
“It was kill or be killed in my frame of mind,” Beaulieu told Dr. Barry Wayne Wall, director of forensic services at Eleanor Slater Hospital in Cranston, who interviewed Beaulieu at the Adult Correctional Institutions, according to court documents.

Joel stabbed his father “more than 50 times” until he died in his kitchen. His badly wounded mother made it out to the driveway. Is it possible to commit such an act without being insane? Sure, some killers will hear voices, and some won’t. Some will express thoughts indicating paranoia; others’ lunacy will be indicated by different pathologies.
I’m not questioning the judgment in this case, and I’m not worried that an insane asylum will be any less of a prison. (Although, I note with a chill that on the day of the murder “Beaulieu told his treating physician he was feeling better,” and I wonder about the process of his future therapy.) But it seems to me that we introduce some dangerous concepts when it becomes legitimate to judge a person’s guilt by his or her frame of mind.
Essentially, Beaulieu’s claim is one of self defense, and the state’s course of action is to treat him for the mental disorder that led him to feel threatened when he wasn’t. Again, what motive for killing loving parents would not be an act of insanity? Or is it only a crime to kill people who give one a reason to want them dead?

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Patrick
Patrick
9 years ago

My mother always said that to kill someone, you have to be insane, even if temporarily. So if that is true, then we’re simply discussing the length of the “insanity”.
I think the real question here is whether a person is completely incapable of controlling their actions, in the way that a wild animal is incapable. Maybe that is possible, I don’t know.
The other issue is the point of prisons. Are they for rehabilitation or punishment. I think many would answer “both”. If it were just the former, then a murderer found to be “insane” shouldn’t face more jail time after being rehabilitated, if it is possible to have full rehabilitation for these people. If it is also to mete out punishment, then clearly they go to the rehab hospital for as long as necessary and even then when they are “healed” (if that’s possible), then they move on to the normal prison, for the rest of their term and serve it out as any other prisoner for their sentence.

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

“the real question here is whether a person is completely incapable of controlling their actions, in the way that a wild animal is incapable. Maybe that is possible, I don’t know.”
I was once prescribed medication that literally had me rampaging around town during a freezing January rain in a total psychosis. By the end of the night, I had slapped my girlfriend, beat-up my best friend, and tried to flip my Mom’s bed over. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not at all like that, I don’t even kill bugs I find in the house (I put them in jars and take them outside). I woke up fine the next day, called my doctor, and dumped the pills.
I had a friend in high school who slowly slipped into schizophrenia. He tried to stab a customer at a coffee shop before he attempted to take his own life. As soon as he was medicated, he was back to being a model citizen.
As much as I feel that everyone should be held responsible for their actions, there is a point where some leeway has to be made for professionals to determine if someone’s actions are really ‘theirs’.
I also personally knew Greg Floyd (the ‘Johnston carjacking killer’), Ron Posner (the guy who beat his girlfriend to death in Barrington), and Frank Sanchez-Collins (the guy who had a bag of human hands he was planning to toss off the Braga Bridge)… I can say that you DO have to be insane to kill a person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not an evil menace on top of it, and evil menaces need to be locked-up.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

Deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, and retribution are the four commonly accepted theories of criminal punishment. For insanity commitments, it seems to be only about incapacitation and rehabilitation, since we aren’t really faulting the person in a moral sense. I was impressed by Justin’s acknowledgement of the severity of commitment because the popular perception is that these people are getting off light through some kind of legal loophole. I’d personally choose prison over being doped up in an insane ward for an indefinite period of time. I would not agree with making them serve the remainder of a prison sentence after being fully treated for their illness because it’s not principled with regard to the underlying legal theory that they didn’t understand or couldn’t control what they were doing in the first place.

Tommy Cranston
Tommy Cranston
9 years ago

He’ll be out in 3 years or less…Ga-Run-Teed.

tim
tim
9 years ago

I do not know if he’ll be “out in three years”; I do know that Tommy will still be a donkey three years from now, GA-RON-TEED.

Monique
Editor
9 years ago

“Is it possible to commit such an act without being insane?”
I, too, found this verdict befuddling and alarming but for the reverse reason. All of his actions were specific and deliberate. Therefore, I contend that it isn’t possible to kill someone in the way that he (allegedly) did without being sane.
“As soon as he was medicated, he was back to being a model citizen.”
Sure but what happens when someone doesn’t stay on their meds, for whatever reason? This isn’t so much directed at you to answer, Mangeek – this is the big issue that we all (as a society) are struggling with. What price is it acceptable for an innocent person to pay because someone did not stay on their meds? What price is it acceptable for the person who needs but doesn’t stay on the meds to pay (i.e., involuntary confinement)?

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
9 years ago

One curious consideration: My understanding is that ignorance of the law is no defense. If you don’t know the speed limit, that’s your fault. If you don’t know tax law, that’s your fault. So how is it not your fault if you don’t know that murder is immoral or, more pertinently, against the law? Is the paradoxical conclusion that “ignorance” is only a defense if there’s no rational way to be ignorant of the criminality of an act? Put oppositely, is ignorance only not a defense when it’s actually possible that the act might not be illegal?
My larger point is that I don’t think we, as a civic society, consider these matters rationally, digging down to the underlying principle.
The question of guilt is no less than an existential question, in my view. Who are we as human beings, as individuals? In materialist terms (the only ones, we’re constantly harangued, that constitute a legitimate basis for the law), we’re little more than organic masses of chemical and atomic interactions, with social inputs to those interactions. By definition, therefore, acts that break with moral and legal standards must involve some error either in socialization or biology. Every crime is just an error awaiting the cure for discover.
I don’t hold to that view, but I don’t see how one can emphasize the material and not think that the insane person is still fundamentally culpable for his or her actions.

Dan
Dan
9 years ago

My understanding is that ignorance of the law is no defense. If you don’t know the speed limit, that’s your fault. If you don’t know tax law, that’s your fault. So how is it not your fault if you don’t know that murder is immoral or, more pertinently, against the law? Is the paradoxical conclusion that “ignorance” is only a defense if there’s no rational way to be ignorant of the criminality of an act? Put oppositely, is ignorance only not a defense when it’s actually possible that the act might not be illegal? We use the legal fiction that you are on notice of all of society’s laws out of necessity. It would obviously be impossible for anybody to actually know millions of pages of laws in this country, many of which change from year to year and from county to county, but our society simply couldn’t function without this fiction in place. So you were visiting family and didn’t know it’s illegal to park within 25 feet of any corner in Providence? Too bad – you were on notice, so cough up your $40. (True story) My solution to this farce is to get rid of victimless crime laws to the point where you actually *could* rationally be expected to know the laws of the land, but I don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. There actually is an exception specifically for tax law, in that ignorance of tax law can be used as a defense because it is so complicated and everyone would be in prison without it. Consistency is not our legal framework’s strong suit, but it is quite practical. The IRS doesn’t want to jail you… they really just want their money. I think the key distinction is that insane persons aren’t just ignorant of… Read more »

Justin Katz
Justin Katz
9 years ago

I don’t think so. In both cases, the materialist is just smuggling in moral judgement with a back-filled rationalization:
* Rehabilitation. A person who knowingly commits a crime must have some personal justification for doing so; it is therefore possible to rehabilitate that person in the sense of explaining to him or her why it was wrong.
* Deterrence. This applies not to the person who committed a crime, but to people who might commit the same crime in the future. It harms, not helps, the deterrent effect when there are exceptions in which the crime (e.g., patricide) is not a crime. Indeed, I obliquely alluded to this in the initial post. One can imagine the thought process: “I want to kill my parents, therefore I must be crazy, therefore it would not be a crime if I were to kill my parents.”

Harvey Waxman
9 years ago

It seems to me that there should be change in the allowable verdict options. It’s more meaningful to declare someone GUILTY by reason of insanity instead of NOT guilty by reason of insanity. Under the current scheme people die but no one is guilty.
Perhaps then sentences might be more meaningful.

mangeek
mangeek
9 years ago

“It’s more meaningful to declare someone GUILTY by reason of insanity instead of NOT guilty by reason of insanity”
“What price is it acceptable for an innocent person to pay because someone did not stay on their meds?”
I think the answer here is that if someone does something (like going off their meds) where there’s a reasonable expectation that harm might result, they’re liable for the negligence and the harm-done, not necessarily the actual crime.
So, in mine and my friend’s case, nothing ‘negligent’ happened; they were just a really horrible chains of events that nobody could have predicted. We should pay for damages or serve some sort of restitution, but not face deterrent-type sentencing. If my friend stops taking his meds, or if I willfully take meds that put me into a mania again, then we must be held accoutnable for AT LEAST the negligence on top of restitution, and possibly more.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
9 years ago

We had a guy on trial in Brooklyn when I was a court officer back in the early 70’s who did the following:While dropping acid with his girlfriend,he strangled her,then lacquered her body and wrapped her in tinfoil and plastic sheeting.
This was the summer.He stashed he under his bed and took her out avary so often to have sex-she was rotting and eventually the smell alerted neighbors who called the police.
He had been kicked out of the army for being nuts.
He was really weird in person-like he didn’t think it was any big deal.
A judge found him fit to proceed and he was convicted and got 25 to life.
He wasn’t fit to take a piss on his own,but what do I know?
At least he didn’t eat her like that guy Rakowitz in NYC a few years later.

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