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The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context

On-line version ISSN 1989-4007Print version ISSN 1889-1861


HELM, Rebecca K.; CECI, Stephen J.  and  BURD, Kayla A.. Unpacking insanity defence standards: an experimental study of rationality and control tests in criminal law. The European Journal of Psychology Applied to Legal Context [online]. 2016, vol.8, n.2, pp.63-68. ISSN 1989-4007.

The present study investigated the impact of different legal standards on mock juror decisions concerning whether a defendant was guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity. Undergraduate students (N = 477) read a simulated case summary involving a murder case and were asked to make an insanity determination. The cases differed in terms of the condition of the defendant (rationality deficit or control deficit) and the legal standard given to the jurors to make the determination (Model Penal Code, McNaughten or McNaughten plus a separate control determination). The effects of these variables on the insanity determination were investigated. Jurors also completed questionnaires measuring individualism and hierarchy attitudes and perceptions of facts in the case. Results indicate that under current insanity standards jurors do not distinguish between defendants with rationality deficits and defendants with control deficits regardless of whether the legal standard requires them to do so. Even defendants who lacked control were found guilty at equal rates under a legal standard excusing rationality deficits only and a legal standard excluding control and rationality deficits. This was improved by adding a control test as a partial defence, to be determined after a rationality determination. Implications for the insanity defence in the Criminal Justice System are discussed.

Keywords : Insanity; Control disorders; Law and mental health; Juror decision-making; Legal standards.

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