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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Insanity: Legal Definition vs. Definition of Mental Illness

The legal definition of insanity is not the same as the psychological definition of mental illness. Bizarre acting Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed at least 17 people, chopped them up, and stored the body parts, was sane in the eyes of the law. So was 17-year-old Lee Malvo, who some claim was “brainwashed” by his fellow Beltway sniper, 42-year-old John Muhammad. Psychotically depressed and schizophrenic Andrea Yates, who systematically drowned her five children in a bathtub, was found sane and guilty of murder. That verdict was overturned on appeal, and a retrial jury concluded that Yates was not guilty by reason of insanity. Lorena Bobbitt, infamous for cutting off her husband’s penis following an alleged rape, was found not guilty by reason of insanity—in the absence of any major mental illness. The paranoid schizophrenic “unabomber” Ted Kaczynski, who mailed exploding packages to unsuspecting victims, gained fame for refusing to use the insanity defense. (Oltmanns & Emery, 2012, p. 473)


Oltmanns, T. F. & Emery, R. E. (2012). Abnormal psychology (7th ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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