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Jared Loughner and the ins and outs of the insanity defense

Photo of Alexis Levinson
Alexis Levinson
Political Reporter

Thirdly, it is important to note that the defense need only prove that the defendant was either unable to “conform” to societal standards, or that he or she was unable to “appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her actions.” One or the other is sufficient to raise the issue of insanity.

The wording of the section in the United States Code that governs the issue of the insanity defense is very specific on this:

First, that the insanity defense “is an affirmative defense to a prosecution under any Federal statute that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense.”

Secondly, “The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.”

Chin emphasizes this point. “Just being severely mentally ill in no way means that the insanity defense is available.”

“You have to be unable to appreciate the nature and quality of the wrongfulness of your act,” Chin said. For instance, he said, if “you think you are in a video game,” or, the classic example he said, is that “you think you’re squeezing lemons when really you’re strangling somebody.”

There is rarely need to prove the facts of such a case. As in the Loughner case, where there are eyewitnesses to the shooting and in which he was tackled to the ground while trying to reload his gun, “what happened is never really at issue,” said Delahunt. “It’s a question of why it happened.”

The government, on its end, will try to prove that Loughner can be held responsible for his actions by illustrating that his actions were premeditated and planned, or that the person had the “ability to conform” and at least put on a show of a normal life. They will look, Delahunt said, at “every step of his day” leading up to the shooting: “where he parked…how he concealed the gun as he walked from the car to the place where he fired from,” the fact that he was “using a high capacity clip” as opposed to an ordinary one, that he was “changing clips when they tackled him — that all shows functionality, that all shows understanding of how firearms work.” Any form of planning like that “shows preparation,” Delahunt said. The fact that he hid the gun suggests an “ability to conform.”

“I’d do a time line back in time as far as you can go,” Delahunt says. “Was he taking classes? Working a job? Keeping medical appointments?” he asked, continuing, “Did he do anything like that that a normal person is capable of doing?”

All of which, Delahunt said, would suggest that he had the capacity to live something resembling “a normal life” and to conform.

  • wfjag

    While typically an insanity defense is at least a de facto admission that the defendant did the act, in this case that isn’t much of an admission — he was tackled and held at the scene by witnesses, the police have the gun and bullets, and there should be videos from stores’ outside security cameras showing him shooting. Of course, if the Pima County Deputies are as professional as their boss, all of the evidence could be corrupted or lost by the time it gets to trial.

    Still, everything that comes out about Loughner shows that he’s psychotic (I’ll leave to others the exact diagnosis under DSM-IV-R-T; but, whatever it is, it’s some variation of “He’s crazy as a ‘Betsy Bug’” as my Dad, a Psychiatrist, used to put it). And, it doesn’t hurt that he looks like he’s going to an Addams Family Convention as an Uncle Fester wannabe.

    IMO, the thing that will either get him the death penalty or Not Guilty by reason of insanity is how he responds to the evidence of the killing of the 9 year old girl. If, as is possible, his affect (emotions) are absolutely flat — that is, no response — a jury may easily conclude that he’s too crazy to be guilty.

  • jonavark

    Not sure but I _think_ that is Kathy Griffin without makeup..

  • Kurtis D. Davis

    There has never been a premeditating murderer, who could not be further described as insane. Neither is there any crime, which prevents blaming the victim. The justice we seek must be first and foremost for the victims. With this in mind, let us hope a lawful jury will deliver verdict, with full understanding that Timothy McVeigh proves one thing—our justice works quite well. Let’s all hope and pray, for the sake of the victims, that due process of the law prevails—that, among other things, is what they were gathered to support. Let us be a people who believe that two wrongs do not make a right. If one man named Oswald had gone to trial, much history would be different. What is true for the part does not always represent the whole.

  • leilani

    I’m actually more interested in finding out what the defense plea will be for all those libelous CNN reporters, anchors and analysts who falsely claimed that Loughner, a demonstrably avowed leftist anti-conservative paranoid schizophrenic and open Sarah Palin h8ter, was nonetheless a disciple of Sarah Palin who was doing her homicidal bidding by murdering a right-wing Republican judge.

  • RinoHunter

    Sheriff Dupnik has really screwed this case up. They should have taken the perp in for a psych eval within 24 hours of the shooting. He could have established a baseline on insanity and he could have cooled his jets and wait for some real evidence before flying blind. Instead he went out and tied Loughner to a foul political climate. This is the real insanity. That testimony is going to come back to haunt Yosemite Sam the Sheriff in the trial a hundred fold. If Dupnik hasn’t thought about retiring yet he should start as his popularity has dropped down to Pelosi level and it’s getting lower day by day.

  • the_Spider

    I hope when he fries, they pump so much electricity in him that he looks like a human sparkler. And he ought to go clutching Das Kapital and a picture of Obama and Pelosi in his arms

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