Guilty But Mentally Ill

Laura Anderson

History

The Guilty but Mentally Ill stance was first adopted in Michigan in 1975, stemming from the 1974 case of: People vs. McQuillan.  In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity and put into institutions for the criminally insane, were guaranteed hearings on their present sanity to the same degree as patients who were civilly committed.  Also, the court ruled that once the patients were found mentally sane, they were entitled to be released.  As a result of these rulings sixty-four inmates who were found not guilty by reason of insanity were released. Two of these inmates, once freed, committed violent crimes almost immediately, resulting in the formation and adoption of the guilty but mentally ill plea.

Michigan’s main problem was that only two verdicts existed: guilty, innocent, or not guilty by reason of insanity.  But between these two verdicts is a huge gap.  For example, if you had a defendant whose mental illness played a significant role in their crime, the jury would either have to ignore the mental illness by choosing the guilty verdict, or offer complete pardon to the defendant by choosing the not guilty by reason of insanity verdict.

The guilty but mentally ill statute stayed confined only to Michigan until 1981 when a defendant in Indiana, who was accused of the heinous crime of drowning his three children under the age of 6 then raping and murdering their mother, became eligible for the insanity plea.  The fact that this man who committed these horrible acts may be granted complete amnesty caused a public outcry resulting in the dismissal of the insanity plea and the defendant being sentenced to death.  Soon after this trial, Indiana adopted the guilty but mentally ill statute.

Overview                                        

Punishing people for acting in ways over which they have no control, does not have a place in civilized society.  The Model Penal Code states that our society does not punish people for acts that are not voluntary.  The actor holds no responsibility for an action if it was not voluntary and our society does not punish people for things in which they are not responsible.

However, the definition of mental illness for the purposes of a guilty but mentally ill plea varies significantly from state to state.  The leaves a lot of room for question and debate, as juries can find a defendant guilty but mentally ill, where they would have been found not guilty by reason of insanity in other jurisdictions.

The Death Penalty                                  

 Of the twelve states that have a guilty but mentally ill statute, only Alaska and Michigan do not also have the death penalty.

The Michigan statute provides that any sentence that can be given to a defendant found guilty can also be given to a defendant who is found guilty but mentally ill.  Given this standard, the death penalty can be imposed on a defendant whom is found guilty but mentally ill.  States that adopted Michigan’s guilty but mentally ill statute had to their own statutes and evaluate the possibility of the death sentence.

It is one opinion that imposing the death penalty on a defendant found guilty but mentally ill does not match up with the original rehabilitative purpose of the guilty but mentally ill legislation.

In the supreme courts of Indiana and Illinois, a defendant found guilty but mentally ill can receive the death penalty.  

In Georgia, the cases of Jerome Bowden and Jerome Holloway resulted in the removal of “mentally retarded” from the definition of mentally ill, concluding that the death penalty could not be given to a defendant found guilty but mentally retarded.  The Georgia Supreme Court followed the statutes of Illinois and Indian in stating that a guilty but mentally ill conviction could carry the death penalty.

References:

Emanuel, A.S. (1989). Guilty but mentally ill verdicts and the death penalty:an eighth amendment  analysis . North Carolina Law Review, 37

Hermann, Donald H. J. (1983). The insanity defense : philosophical, historical, and legal perspectives. Springfield, Illinois: Thomas.

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