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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tis T.I.D. today - Temporary Insanity Day!

In 1859, Dan Sickles was acquitted of murdering his wife’s boyfriend on account of temporary insanity. It was a first of its kind and so Temporary Insanity Day is commemorated every year to mark the judgment. But this February 19, please don’t indulge is any harmful insanity—just freak out with your buds and go temporarily insane riding on a high of fun!

That's according to one source.
According to another source, most of the former colonial United States adopted the "McNaughton Rule" from an earlier case that was the true first of this particular kind... The rule arose from a 160-year-old British case and is named after Daniel McNaughton. In 1843, McNaughton shot and killed the secretary to the British prime minister because he believed that the prime minister was plotting against him. McNaughton was the first defendant to be found not guilty of a crime "by reason of insanity." Instead of being sent to prison, McNaughton was sentenced to a mental institution for the rest of his life."
More on this rule and on the rarity of such cases: here.

Law.com enlightens us further on this rule too -as well it should- complete with the 19th Century spelling of McNaughton, for this historian's delight, I'm sure.
The traditional test of insanity in criminal cases is whether the accused knew "the difference between right and wrong," following the "M'Naughten rule" from 19th century England. Most states require more sophisticated tests based on psychiatric and/or psychological testimony evaluated by a jury of laypersons or a judge without psychiatric training. A claim by a criminal defendant of his/her insanity at the time of trial requires a separate hearing to determine if a defendant is sufficiently sane to understand the nature of a trial and participate in his/her own defense. If found to be insane, the defendant will be ordered to a mental facility, and the trial will be held only if sanity returns.
There's much more to read on this too - here.

For a brief overview of many famous and infamous cases of unbridled temporary insanity, check out this third and final link now and that would be - here! This entertaining summary is brought to you the overall sane staff of the acclaimed TV documentary and public affairs show "Frontline".
It brings to light yet another discrepancy in all this: yet another "first of its kind" (for it seems that everyone and their cousin wanted to have the dubious honor of being the first to be found innocent because totally and irremediably insane!)
Richard Lawrence was an unemployed house painter in his 30s who fired two pistols at U.S. President Andrew Jackson as Jackson walked through the Capitol Rotunda during a funeral procession. Both pistols misfired, and Lawrence was quickly apprehended. He was the first person charged with the attempted assassination of a U.S. president. Lawrence apparently suffered from delusions of persecution, believing that he was heir to the British throne and that Jackson had thwarted him by conspiring to keep him from receiving a fortune with which he could return to England and claim his seat. He also believed that Jackson had killed his father. At his one-day trial, Lawrence repeatedly interrupted the proceedings, loudly proclaiming that he was the kind of England and Rome. The jury acquitted him by reason of insanity after only five minutes of deliberation, and he spent the rest of his life -- 26 years -- in an asylum.
All of this took place in 1835...!
The apparent urge to be the first of its kind is noticeable even on the typo made in this summary, when it is mentioned that Lawrence thought himself to be "the kind of England and Rome". Hmm... lest it was meant as "the kind king of England and Rome"...? Kind but fierce when he feels ripped off! Only natural, one supposes...

Amidst all of these notorious cases of rampant lunacy, one probably finds comfort in the realization that one's own temporary lapses of judgment are not so bad after all. After all, the worst kind of temporary insanity most of us are capable of falling prey to are of the order of guilty pleasures. That and several of the seven deadly sins too... When we knowingly indulge a caprice or do wrong, it can be explained as temporary insanity - to our own conscience that is.
That is, those of us who have a conscience too.
Certain shrinks I know, a would-be real estate tycoon from Armenia, several substance users and people abusers and one or two compulsive liars I've run into in the course of my life are the "peeps" that, quite frankly, I doubt own anything remotely close to a "conscience"... But that is another story.
If the curiosity bug bit you while reading this, and you would like to find out just how potentially insane you may be yourself (temporarily or permanently) - check out this insanity test - provided to you courtesy of TLB Prime!






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