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Updated: Jul 29, 2020


(Damodaram Sanjivayya National Law University, visakhapatnam )


The insanity is one of criminal law's negative classes. This is the battle between the medical profession and the legal profession, the insanity as a defense draws an inference from the meager facts, insanity is evidently a matter of fact not gaged by inflexible legal examination. A mentally ill person is not prosecuted for his / her crime because he / she is incapable of free will, this does not mean that the duties of justice is beyond the burden of evidence must be fair doubt and instead only the plea of an unsound mind is entertained.

The defense of insanity is seen as the primary one used in criminal prosecutions. It is founded on the actual or assumed presumption that the defendant was suffering from serious mental illness at the time of any form or major crime being committed, and thus unable to understand the essence of the crime and equate the right to wrong conduct, thereby rendering them not legally responsible for the crime. The defense of insanity hereby is considered a criminal legal term.

And it means that even suffering from a mental illness is not enough to prove insanity. The defendant has the duty of accusing the defense claimant of insanity by a "preponderance of proof" similar to a criminal trial. It is difficult to assess and prove legal insanity, and much more difficult to prove accurate facts in a court room or on the day of court proceedings.

The concept of responsibility is linked to our most fundamental convictions of human nature and dignity and the daily experience of guilt and innocence, blame and punishment. Punishing a person who is not responsible for the crime constitutes a violation of basic human rights and constitutional freedoms under the Indian Constitution. It also brings in the due process of law, if that individual is not in a position to defend himself in the court of law, evoking the natural justice principle.

The affirmative defense of legal insanity refers to this basic concept by excusing all psychologically disordered criminals whose illness at the time of the offense robbed them of moral understanding of their behavior. Therefore, it is widely accepted that inability to commit crimes exempts the offender from punishment. The law in most developed nations recognizes this. Also in India, section 84 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) deals with the "behavior of an unsound minded individual" and addresses protection against insanity. Nevertheless, some of the US states in the recent past (such as Montana, Idaho, Kansas, and Utah) have outlawed insanity defense. This issue has raised serious debate among medical, psychology and law professionals across the world.

Very little work has been done on this subject in India but there are few studies on exploring this concept. A landmark study in Indian setting forensic psychiatry occurred in 2011, in which 5024 inmates were assessed on a semi-structured interview schedule, reporting that 4002 (79.6 percent) individuals could be diagnosed with either mental or substance use diagnoses. 1389 (27.6 percent) prisoners have have a diagnosable psychiatric condition after eliminating drug abuse.

Another Indian study portrays a very somber picture of patients in forensic psychiatry settings and advocates for the need to streamline referral, diagnosis, treatment and certification procedures.


The concept of defense by insanity has existed since ancient Greece and Rome. It has been in existence for decades through the insanity defense taking on a legal position in the last three centuries. Various tests were used to classify a person legally insane, such as the Wild Beast Test, The Insane Delusion Test, and the ability test to differentiate between right and wrong. The cornerstone for the seminal M'Naghten rule was laid by these three exams.

The M'Naghten Rule – A historic and landmark ruling came in 1843 that will dominate the legal landscape over a decade for a number. Daniel McNaughten shot and killed Edward Drummond and confused him with Sir Robert Peel. Insanity's defense was described as his defense and his father explained the history of his mental disorder and evidence of being treated while he was in jail. The judge instructed the jury by stating that "the question to be decided is whether the prisoner had or had not used his knowledge at the time the crime in question was performed, so as to realize he was doing a wrong or wicked crime." Mr. M'Naghten was convicted by the jury in this trial, and sent to Bethlem Hospital. There was a great public outcry from the House of Parliament members and consequently led Lord Lyndhurst, who was the Lord Chancellor, to initiate a debate at the House of Lord on the criminal responsibility of people with mental illness, although at the time he refers to it as madness. This led to the enactment of the Lunacy Act of 1845. Through the act was the setting up of the Lunacy commission entrusted with the task of moving people from jail to asylum governed under the act.

This changed the transferring status of people into asylums. Prisoners became patients under medical staff supervision and could be discharged upon doctors' advice.

That marked the court's precedent in creating a defense on the ground of insanity. This should only be used if the defendant had succeeded in demonstrating that he or she was not of a sound mind or suffered from a mental disorder so as not to be able to recognize the essence and extent of his or her conduct, or he or she could not discern the misconduct.

This M'Naghten rule has become a broad legendary precedent for the law of defending insanity crimes.


In India, as per Section 84 of IPC, insanity defense law is based solely on the rules of McNaughten rule.

Section 84 of the IPC deals with and faces the court of the "conduct of an unsound minded person." "Nothing is an offense committed by a person who is incapable of understanding the essence of the conduct or of doing what is either wrong or contrary to the law during the time of attempting to commit a crime.

Let this section investigate in detail the evidence of insanity is not sufficient, it should be shown that the person was wrong at the time of the crime. In 'actus non facet ream miso menus sit rea' an act that has to be performed with a culpable mind to be illegal in nature.

Not only the important accused but the accused's intent to do the particular is equally important to prove the accused's guilty. Furthermore the rea of the men is necessary to understand the seriousness of the crime committed. However, the statement without a guilty mind that there is crime is subject to such a strict liability to some exception, under strict liability, it is not necessary to demonstrate that a decedent possessed the relevant mens rea for the act committed.

Section 84 of IPC, clearly embodies a fundamental maxim of criminal jurisprudence that is,

(a) Actus Reus Non Facit Reum Nisi Mens Sit Rea – an act does not constitute guilt unless done with a guilty intention.

(b) Furiosi nulla voluntas est – a person with mental illness has no free will.

Depending on the jurisdiction, courts use one or a combination of the following tests for legal insanity:

  • The Mc Naghten Rule – Defendant either did not understand what he or she did, or failed to distinguish right from wrong, because of a ‘disease of mind’.

  • The Irresistible Impulse test - As a result of a mental disease, the defendant was unable to control his impulses, which led to a criminal act.

  • The Durham Rule – No matter of clinical diagnosis, defendants ‘mental defect’ resulted during a criminal act.

  • The Model penal code test for legal insanity – Because of a diagnosed mental defect, the defendant either failed to understand the criminality of his acts, or was unable to act within the confines of the law.

Many worldwide states that accept legal insanity use either the M'naghten Rule (sometimes in conjunction with the Irresistible Impulse Test), or the Model Penal Code. Just New Hampshire uses traditional Durham.


1. Temporary Insanity:-A state under which a person is insane only occasionally or at a specified point in time. Some temporary mental illnesses or insanities involve depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors. In the defense of temporary insanity, there are two possible outcomes, one is 'not guilty because insane' and the other is 'guilty but can't be tried because insane."

2. Permanent insanity:– A condition in which a person consistently suffers a mental illness. From past records and events that had occurred it can be proved that the person is permanently insane and unable to understand the gravity of any situation.


1. It creates an instant atmosphere of guilt.

The example of the defense of insanity has a small distinction from most. In these cases, the accused must admit that he committed the crime but did not have any idea what he did. He is incapable of discriminating between what is right and what is wrong. There, the accused's mental state may become a factor that supports or opposes his defense of insanity.

2. It does not allow the death penalty.

The insane person cannot be given the death penalty, even if he confesses his crime, he is incapable of knowing the severity of what he did. Alternatively, the perpetrator could face a more lenient penalty.

3. It can lead to a no-jail term or possible acquittal.

In some cases where the accused's mental condition has been proved to the judge, he is not charged with any punishment or acquittal. It all depends upon the state of mind with which he is possessed.


1. It is abolished in some jurisdictions.

It is important to note here that not all of the courts in their jurisdiction accept the plea of insanity. In some places it has been abolished, so if any such case arises that is successful in convincing the jury is transferred to such jurisdiction where this provision is followed.

2. It can lead to increased trial costs.

One of the key points here is that it increases the cost of trailing. The defense will definitely hire an expert to prove their point to the court to prove the insanity. The prosecutor will do the same, as well. A significant amount of money will be used in this process. And of all these, only the smallest number of cases succeed in taking the insanity defense.

3. It can be very difficult to prove.

Proving the claim of insanity is a very big obstacle for the defendant. Mental disorder can be proven by having it tested by a specialist who provides evidence of the accused's real mental state according to his expertise, examination and experience. Even after that, the defense of the insanity thus created must be approved or rejected by the judges. It does not offer the accused any promise of relief or a remedy.

4. It can be misused

Even justifying insanity may be misused to avoid the acquittal or penalty. It is very hard to analyze whether the person at that point in time was of sound mind or unsound mind. Basically, it all depends on how the judge views the matter and dishes down his decision.


Insanity has been known from time immemorial as a defense in criminal action, and especially in the case of homicide. It has always been acknowledged that all people are believed to be the same until they are proven insane. It was a Supreme Court rule that mentally ill persons and psychopaths are unable to claim relief from a criminal prosecution, it is the duty at the time the crime was committed to show insanity.

❖ In the case of bench DK Jain, where the men cut off his wife's head because of mental abnormality, the court held that section 84 offered immunity from criminal prosecution as unsound mentality.

❖ In Hari Singh Gond v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court noted that in cases of alleged mental insanity, Section 84 of IPC sets out the legal test of responsibility. There is no 'mind soundness' concept. But the word 'insanity' has no meaning in itself. Definition: This is a word used to describe various mental illnesses where the conclusion is that the individual is totally liable to repeated insanity fits.

❖ Kamala Bunia v/s West Bengal, the defendant was tried with an axis for murdering her husband. A case was brought against her claiming to be insane at the time of the attack, the accused made no attempt to escape, nor made any effort by the prosecutor to retrieve the incriminating weapon failure to discharge his original responsibility for the involvement of men's rea in the accused at the time of the crime. They thus profit from section 84 and proved insane at the time the crime was committed.


The insanity defense is a loophole for the criminals despite Many advantages. They are:

  • It is the most popular weapon as a defense in this century to escape from any crime.

  • It is almost impossible to prove the mental status of a person at the time of the offence

  • It is not just concerned with the mental insanity but with the legal insanity.

  • Mere arguments aren't enough to make a decision that the accused deserves the defense, it depends upon the circumstances.

  • The case of insanity defense becomes more complicated as compared to others as it is not to prove that the accused has performed the crime or not, rather it is about the accused confessing his crime and stating that he has no idea about what he has done.

  • Insanity pleas had a hit rate of about 17% in Indian High Courts within the past decade. The states still need to look forward to some strict laws in order to control and use this defense in its right form.

  • Those factors make insanity defense a much simpler and more common way for offenders to protect themselves from the crimes they deliberately commit.

  • Latest statistics strongly indicate that people with mental disabilities who have committed a crime are substantially more likely to be convicted for criminal activity, including violent offenses, after discharge than members of the general population.' Detailed comparisons of former psychiatric patients who previously committed a crime with those of comparable age, gender, and socioeconomic status who had previously committed a crime.


[DISCLAIMER: This article is for general information only. We have tried to include as much information as possible but there are chances that some important information may have been missed .It is NOT to be substituted for legal advice or taken as legal advice. The publishers of the this article shall not be liable for any act or omission based on this note].

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