Created By: dragonslip on August 31, 2012 Last Edited By: dragonslip on September 1, 2012
Nuked

Insanity Defense Is A Racket

This when characters complain about how letting mentally ill people off the hook is supposable unjust somehow

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Page Type:
Trope
In real life the extent to which and in what situations an insanity defence should be allowed is the subject of a fair bit of scientific and a philosophical debate. The viewpoint that it should never be allowed is not unheard of but in by no means common

In fiction however the view point that not sending crazy people to jail in unjust seems to be strangely common among any one with a connection to a crime or who works in law enforcement in any way. The reason for this is that it creates conflict.I mean if the main cast arrested a schizophrenic for murder and every one just shrugged and said “obviously not his fault, send him to the funny farm” that wouldn’t be very interesting if no one argued

This is also sometimes put in plots because trying to put a crazy person away might simply be part of someone's job and having a protagonist do something they don’t agree with just because it’s their job isn’t exactly sympathetic


Examples:

Live Action TV
  • in the Law & Order franchise they usually try to give some logical justification as to why their tying to prosecute a clearly insane suspect but for the most part the characters talk about why their doing it in terms of this. Like ADA Alex telling Olivia that it was some how wrong not to prosecute a mentally ill man for using an under age prostitute if they prosecuted all the sane men who used her, or Captain Cragen complaining about how sending a rapist murderer to an institution rather then jail because he’s retarded is unjust to his why of thinking

Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    I don't think this is actually a trope so much as depicting real life bias and in approx the same proportion of fiction as in real life too. The world is full of ignorant and/or opinionated people and some of them become writers.
  • August 31, 2012
    dragonslip
    Star Valkyrie

    A women on yahoo answers once told me she thought killing someone well sleep walking should be changed as murder, that’s the only time I can remember encountering this sort of thing in real life

  • August 31, 2012
    Random888
    When the guy who shot Ronald Reagan was declared insane, the public outcry led to them making the insanity defense harder to prove. In short, this is not a trope because a lot of people really do feel that way. I agree it's the "wrong" opinion, but you can't just point to an opinion you disagree with and call it a trope. Especially not when a large number of people believe it.
  • August 31, 2012
    TwinBird
    Most jurisdictions will give you a pass only if you were incapable of appreciating the nature of your actions. Insanity alone doesn't cut it. Hinckley got in under a lower standard, which exists now in very few US states pretty much because of him.
  • August 31, 2012
    Goldfritha
    One could as easily argue that you are dehumanizing people by saying that any mental illness makes them as incapable of controlling themselves as dogs or infants.
  • August 31, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    A sentence starting with the words "It seems obvious..." is a red flag that sweeping generalizations are about to be made regarding a complex topic. This isn't a trope. It's an ongoing debate about justice theory.
  • August 31, 2012
    dragonslip
    @Goldfritha

    infants are human

    @Twin Bird

    why is that?

    @rodneyAnonymous

    Are you saying what should constitute an insanity defence is debatable, or whether insanity defences in general should be allowed is debatable?...or both?
  • August 31, 2012
    Random888
    On the other hand, this could be a trope if we turned it into a sliding scale of how responsible people are portrayed as being for their actions. It could start with examples from classical antiquity (where Medusa is "responsible" for her own rape) and move up to the "it's not their fault because they had a Freudian Excuse" viewpoint.
  • August 31, 2012
    SKJAM
    See Insanity Defense for what we currently have on the topic.
  • August 31, 2012
    dragonslip
    @Random888

    I can call the frequency of that opinion a trope?

  • August 31, 2012
    jatay3

    "One could as easily argue that you are dehumanizing people by saying that any mental illness makes them as incapable of controlling themselves as dogs or infants. "

    What if the person honestly thinks random passers by are invading alien armies? In his mind he wouldn't be a dog or an infant, he would be commiting an act of war. He may know murder is wrong, he just doesn't know he is committing murder. It is not dehumanizing him to say he is under a dangerous delusion.
  • August 31, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Note that in fiction mental institutions have a tendency to be Cardboard Prisons, so they might be Genre Savvy.
  • August 31, 2012
    Random888
    @dragonslip

    No, you can't. There are a lot of racist people in the world, but that doesn't mean racism is a trope.
  • August 31, 2012
    rodneyAnonymous
    No I am saying this isn't a trope. The description says "such-and-such is obviously correct, and this is about when fictional characters get it wrong." I would say that just needs to be rewritten but I don't think there is anything worthwhile buried in it. If you disagree please describe the storytelling convention in a way that is not normative.

    Also, government (let alone individual) standards differ greatly on the issue; assuming one is "normal" is myopic.

    The same argument that says mentally handicapped people shouldn't be punished for their crimes can be used to make a case that no one should. There are other ways to deal with crime. Retributive justice is demonstrably ineffective at almost every aspect of jurisprudence (such as deterrence) except sating lust for vengeance.
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    Dragonslip, Justice Theory is debates about the nature and purpose of justice. For example some people believe justice is about setting an example so others won't commit crime, some believe its about punishing the perpetrator, some believe it's about closure for the victim. There are huge philosophical debates about systems of justice based on equivalence, vengeance, or revenge. There are people who believe people who do bad things must be punished because they must be made to repent. Depending on which of these or other systems of belief a person adheres to, it may not be illogical to seek to punish mentally ill criminals but even so it does not have to be logical for it to be their actual belief.
  • August 31, 2012
    cygnavamp
    • The Joker is handled this way in many incarnations of Batman. Of course, just how insane the Joker is depends on the writer.
  • August 31, 2012
    TwoGunAngel
    I believe you meant "rehabilitation" or something else with that last bit, since "revenge" and "vengeance" are rather synonymous with each other.
  • August 31, 2012
    StarValkyrie
    ^ Yes, you're right about what I meant to type. Sorry about that.
  • August 31, 2012
    Random888
    If anyone is interested in my Sliding Scale of Responsibility idea, here's what I'm proposing:

    • Level 1: It's your fault because your relative did it. Bob was a murderer, but he's no longer with us so we'll punish Bob's son instead. See Sins Of Our Fathers and Revenge By Proxy.
    • Level 2: It's your fault even if you didn't mean to do it. Very common in Classical Mythology. It's Medusa's "fault" when she's raped. It's Hercules's "fault" that he killed his family when Hera was possessing him and he has to do the twelve labors to make up for it.
    • Level 3: It's not your fault if you're mentally incapable of understanding that what you did was wrong. If you have a kind of mental illness which doesn't encompass this, it's still your fault.
    • Level 4: It's not your fault if you have any kind of mental illness.
    • Level 5: It's not your fault if you have a Freudian Excuse. Alice abused her daughter. However, Alice was abused by her own mother, so we won't punish her. This is applied to female character much more than male characters and is key element of Females Are More Innocent.
  • August 31, 2012
    captainsandwich
    does Easily Forgiven ever come into this? Also as this page is, I think it is Flame Bait as it clearly takes the side of a non-well agreed upon viewpoint of an important issue. Sliding Scale of Responsibility however doesn't look like flame bait and it has my support. You might want to mention how level 1 might make more sense in a culture that has more emphasis on family unity. Also in Fairy Tail I recall a message along the lines of people with amnesia are innocent because in some way they aren't the same person that committed the crime. Of course that possibility is Too Rare To Trope, however I would suggest a few blanket levels that cover rare situations such as that.
  • August 31, 2012
    NimmerStill
    @Twin Bird, insanity alone does cut it, but that's because insanity is legally defined as just what you said: not appreciating that your actions were wrong at the time.

    I'm not sure it's really a trope, but another suggested name: Insanity Defense Is A Racket.

    Although it may just fall under Insane Troll Logic.
  • September 1, 2012
    captainsandwich
    Nimmer Still, I highly doubt that legal definition is used by every country. If someone's insanity can cause harm, the safety of everyone else is a priority. If locking the insane person up is the only means to do so, and that is considered punishment I think most people would think it should be done.
  • September 1, 2012
    NimmerStill
    ^Not always exactly the same, but "insane" is always defined, if it is used, in a technical way for legal purposes, which often doesn't conform to the colloquial use of the word, which doesn't really map to anything precise anyway.
  • September 1, 2012
    MrRuano
    • Harvey Birdman Attorney At Law has an exaggerated example when Harvey pleads insanity for his client, who was being sued for having kids imitate his stunts. The speech Harvey gives moves the entire audience, a Tapir then comes in and then states that the insanity defense was only usable in criminal cases.
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