The Insanity Defense & Diminished Capacity: How Should We Judge Criminal Responsibility When an Offender's Mental State is in Question?
Currently there is a push toward standardization of mental defects or diseases that can be used to show diminished capacity in a court of law. Diminished capacity is an avenue by which an offender may claim that while he or she did commit a crime, he or she should not be held criminally responsible because his or her mental state was impaired at the time the crime was committed. Offenders often use diminished capacity to support a defense of insanity. Experts, lawmakers and attorneys are seeking to determine which disorders should be acceptable in the judicial proceedings, as being debilitating enough to deter personal responsibility and therefore be causal factors in a crime. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to determine. Sociologists argue that deviance is socially constructed, thus ever-changing. A standard for diminished capacity in the judicial system has never been set, and because deviance is so fluid, it probably never will be. Looking at the history of the insanity defense it is clear that there is no conclusion to this widely debated issue. There must be a broad, inclusive test of diminished capacity available to every offender, regardless of level of previously diagnosed mental illness. This test should be based only on an offender's condition at the time the crime was committed.