Monday, January 09, 2006


Yates: Not guilty by reason of insanity

The headline above appeared on this afternoon. I really hate this plea. It isn't really an acurate type of plea and I really find that this is one of those areas of the law that just needs changed.

Mrs. Yates admitted to the murder of her children, by definition she is can not be "Not Guilty." I would like to see the insanity plea changed to "Guilty, But Insane." Mrs. Yates was/is mentally ill, she should be treated for her mental illness. In her case, she should probably not ever be free from custody, as she is like to feel well enough to go off her meds.

My wife has suffered from Depression and Anxiety/Panic Disorder. She has been in therapy since she was 15. (She was 41 in last year.) When things do not go her way she still can easily get depressed or anxious. She will occasionally get uncomfortable in public situations. Trust me when I tell you, she will always need to be on meds, perhaps not at the level she currently is, but always on her meds. She is currently taking 4 different meds to control the situation.

Mrs. Yates suffers from more than Post-Partum Depression, and had for a period of time. She had to go off her meds for the period of time that she was pregnant and nursing as many psych meds may be passed on either through the placenta or transmitted in breast milk. Because of this fact, I do believe, in her particular case, her husband is at least partially responsible for the outcome. I do believe that Mrs. Yates is guilty, I also feel that she should not be put in a regular prison facility as she is inappropriate for that situation.

Maybe one day we will have the legal system that a modern and advanced society should have and make the change from Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity to Guilty but Insane.

She's not guilty if the charge was murder. Murder is the killing of another human being intentionally, "with malice aforethought." The idea behind the insanity plea is that an insane person is one who is not capable of forming the necessary intent to murder. It's similar to how a person could be found not guilty of murder because she acted in self defense. In that case, the defendant did kill the other person, but not with malicious intent. To sum up: if this lady is legally "insane," she is guilty of killing her children, but she is not guilty of murder.

Thus, "insanity" for the purposes of the insanity plea is not the same as the medical definition of mental illness. A person with a mental illness could still be capable of forming the necessary intent to commit murder, though, and that person would be "guilty but mentally ill."

In any case, people who are found "not guilty by reason of insanity" are generally not set free; they are involuntarily committed to a high-security mental hospital, and depending on the severity of the mental illness they may remain "incarcerated" in the hospital far longer than a sane person convicted of the same crime might be in prison (because of parole, good time etc.).

Hope that helps. I guess law school was good for something after all.
Clarification: having read the article, I see it's not clear whether Mrs. Yates is guilty or not. However, *if* she is found to be "insane" as the criminal law defines it, she would not be guilty of murder even though she killed the children.

I do understand the situation. But it maybe that a person who is found guilty by reason of insanity maybe released sooner if the medical professionals at the secure medical facility feel that the person has been 'cured' of the insanity at some point. In this case is that she is clearly 'guilty' of having killed her children. She has, after all, admitted to the action of killing her children. I understand the concept of killing someone in self-defense and the legal ramifications. The difference though is the difference between killing someone and murdering someone. Both end with the person being dead, but as you pointed out the intent is very different. In the case of Ms. Yates, she was clearly insane at the time of the crime. She was/is mentally ill. Though these are two separate things for legal purposes, the insanity, in this case, resulted from a series of mental illness related problems.

My argument here is that someone who is clearly mentally ill but has committed the 'crime of murder' despite not being capable of understanding the ramifications of the activity in question is still guilty of murder. Here is my rational for that. She was clearly having a problem with her mental illness. (Having dealt on a daily basis with a person with depression I can assure you I have a very good understanding of how a depressed person can act, and act out. My wife generally knows when she is not 'feeling well' and we have a standing agreement that she is to tell me anytime she is having suicidal thoughts.) Mrs. Yates was documented to have clinical depression and was also suffering Post-Partum Depression. She had to know she was not feeling well and that she was having thought of hurting both herself and her children. As such she really has the ability to avoid the situation that ultimately resulted from her illness by taking an action to prevent the outcome that happened. As such she had some intent for the taking of her children's, and her own, lives. The reasoning she used at the moment of the event was that she was trying to save them from the evil in the world by sending them to a better place. This was not really rational, but it is how she was thinking. The Guilty but Insane plea would allow her to publically acknowledge the guilt she bears, but also to get the help to avoid this type of problem from ever happening again.

The other problem that I have always had with this situation is that I find that Mr. Yates is at least partially responsible for the deaths of his children because he was aware of his wifes mental state and did nothing to prevent her from hurting/killing the children.
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