The Irresistible Impulse Test
By Stephanie Lee
The Irresistible Impulse test made its debut in America in 1844 when a man named Abner Rodger stabbed and murdered a prison warden in the prison where he was being held. His only defense was that he was insane during the actual stabbing. However, the chief justice judging the trial was stated to the jury:
“If then it is proved, to the satisfaction of the jury, that the mind of the accused was in a diseased and unsound state, the question will be, whether the disease existed to so high a degree, that for the time being it overwhelmed the reason, conscience, and judgement, and whether the prisoner…acted from an irresistible and incontrollable impulse. If so, then the act was not the act of a voluntary agent, but the involuntary act of the body, without the concurrence of a mind directing it.” (Commonwealth v. Rodgers, 1844, p. 502)
The Chief Justice Shaw elaborated by concluding his statement being letting the jury know that if this is the case that Rodger would not be held responsible for his criminal acts. The jury found Rodgers not guilty by reason of insanity. This test that acquitted Rodgers of his crime involved knowing right from wrong but being unable to stop from committing the “wrong” act. In 1897, The Supreme Court adopted the Irresistible Impulse test and thus rejectingthe M’Naghten Rule out completely(Garrison, 1998).
However, there there was a problem with the Irresistible Impulse Test: it failed to differentiate between the impulse that cannot be resisted and the impulse that was not resisted. There was a still a remnant of vagueness due to being unable to truly know what a person committing the act is really thinking in the moment. Despite this, the test has still remained in the United States court system and has been used (Garrison, 1998).
A well-known case in which this irresistible Impulse test was used was the case of Lorena Bobbitt in 1994 where she was found not guilty when her defense used the Irresistible Impulse.
Bobbitt was tried because she cut off her husband’s penis one night after he returned home drunk from a party and had then raped her (Bell, 2010). This trial highly publicized the Irresistible Impulse Test due to the enormous amount of publicity this case had received during its time.
alyankovich (2008). Lorena bobbit trial day one. Retrieved from:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XnuPOk144c
Commonwealth v. Rodgers, 7 Metcalf 500 (Mass. 1844)
Garrison, A. H. (1998). The history of the M’Naghten insanity defense and the use of posttraumatic stress disorder as a basis of insanity. American Journal of Forensic Psychology, 16, 39-88.
Bell, R. (2010). Crimes below the belt: penile removal and castration. Retrieved from:http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/criminal_mind/sexual_assault/severed_penis/index.html