Describing the insanity defense as giving legal life to the moral values of fairness and responsibility that the Supreme Court should uphold as a constitutional
Stephen J. Pollak
right, University of Pennsylvania professor Stephen J. Morse nonetheless expressed approval of changes in the law which Congress imposed in 1984 that excluded consideration of whether the defendant could control himself and prohibited experts from providing a conclusion on the ultimate issue.
He voiced concern about the provision shifting the burden to the defendant, especially at the clear and convincing level, but said the question of “whether we get tough or tender” was a political and moral one, and not within the realm of science. Morse, Professor of Law and Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, was a principal speaker at the Historical Society’s April 11 program, “Madness or Badness: Duran and the Evolution of the Insanity Defense in the D.C. Circuit.” (Stephen J. Pollak pictured right.)
Reprising their closing arguments in the 1995 trial of attempted Presidential assassin Francisco Duran, A.J. Kramer who defended Duran, and Eric Dubelier who prosecuted him, debated Duran’s plea of insanity. Kramer argued that Duran’s delusions that he had to shoot at evil forces hovering over the White House were the product of “a very sick mind.” Dubelier responded that Duran’s “personality problems” didn’t make him insane and that he was faking his illness to escape responsibility. Duran was found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison under the revised standards. (A.J. Kramer pictured left.)
In a discussion that followed, Dr. Patrick Canavan, Chief Executive Officer of St. Elizabeths Hospital, said the flow of defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity had dropped to a trickle since the changes Congress enacted after the insanity acquittal of John Hinckley.