“Guilty but mentally ill” legislation responds to the increasing outbreak of violent crimes and to public skepticism concerning the ability of psychiatrists to determine the advisability of a criminal's return to society. Under this alternative to the traditional insanity defense, once the defendant chooses to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, the trier of fact may elect to find him guilty, but mentally ill. This may occur when it is determined that the defendant's mental illness is not severe enough to negate culpability. The court must then sentence the defendant to a term in prison instead of committing him to a psychiatric institution.
This Note discusses the origins of the guilty but mentally ill verdict and outlines the development of commitment standards for civil patients and insanity acquittees. While these standards appeared to be merging for a period of time the more recent trend has been to treat civil patients and insanity acquitees differently. This Note maintains that the guilty but mentally ill verdict involves an unnecessarily severe curtailment of the mentally ill offender's constitutional rights.
The Note delineates a proposal critiquing the misconceptions on which the statute is based and the excessive restraints on liberty it causes. The proposal examines the reasons for the public's misgivings with the insanity defense and suggests that the threat to the public's safety may not be as serious as it appears. Furthermore, it indicates that while problems remain with the existing insanity defense, the solution to those problems provided by the guilty but mentally ill statute outweighs the risk that insanity acquittees pose to the public.