When a mass shooting or Murder happens, we instantly want to find out what the motive was. We ask ourselves why? finding the reasons behind the act brings closure and closure brings peace to many people. What brings a person to the point that they go into a church, full of people minding their own business, looking children and women in the face and opening fire? The one in Vegas is even more puzzling, this was a man from the outside had everything going on for him, did he not have any criminal record. What got him to the point of causing death just for the sake of it. Another reason we want to find out the reason for the action is, we can try to put measures in place so that it does not happen in the future. People moved on fast from the terror attack in Manhattan because we knew why the person did what he did.
Mental health presents legal issues when it comes to murder, under Commonwealth law in Australia, unsoundness of mind can be used as a defense to a criminal charge. Application of this law means that people who are charged with a crime cannot enter a plea or be found guilty because of a mental disorder. Instead, they become forensic patients. For the courts to determine mental health, expert witnesses have to attest to eligibility for the assailant to stand trial. Depending on the nature of the crime, they are released back into society with conditions, others are treated in a mental health institution. Diagnosing mental health relies on a set criteria and that criteria changes from time to time.
For example, a New South Wales study found that 48 percent of reception inmates and 38% of sentenced had suffered a mental illness in previous 12 months. This is when the definition of a mental disorder was limited to psychosis, affective disorder or anxiety. When a broader definition of psychiatric disorder was used, it found that 74% of the NSW population was affected. 51% of the prisoners in Victorian prisoners reported that they had received or been assessed by a psychiatrist or doctor for an emotional or mental health problem. The numbers show that there is a higher incidence of mental health in prison than in the general population.
Invoking mental health as a defense takes the responsibility away from the person who committed the crime. The standard of culpability is based on the reasonable person test, in other words, what would a regular person with intact judgment do in a similar situation. There are some mental health illnesses that if a person commits a crime they should not be held accountable. For example interpretive disorders, where a person interprets reality incorrectly, or schizophrenia.
The law differentiates between intent and motive. The motive in criminal law is described as circumstances that induce an action. Motive in its self is not a crime, but, in criminal proceedings, knowing what motive was, is allowed to make plausible the accused reasons for committing a crime. The intent, on the other hand, is synonymous with Mens rea, which means the mental state shows liability enforced by law as a crime. In a criminal proceeding, the motive is not needed for a verdict. But it is taken into account when sentencing, Motive can be broken into three categories; biological, social and personal. The Judge will take into account in say abused women who kill their husbands.Intent to commit a crime means that the individual while fully aware of their actions and consequences acted to bring o the intended outcome. The problem here is that even battered women who kill are most of the times fully aware of their actions. Battered women who kill are given lighter sentences because the law takes into account societal inequality. Takes the responsibility away from the assailant and puts it on the social economic factors, or mental illness if it can be proved. The problem here is the same can be said for people who do mass shootings, we are all a product of both our genes and the environment. If it is DNA, does that take away culpability, because they are only dancing to whatever the DNA tells them to do? Insanity is based on the notion that the person did not have the capacity to the different right from wrong because of a defect in the brain.
In a study of mental health and crimes committed in Washington, only 7.5% were directly related to symptoms of mental health. the study analyzed 429 crimes committed by 143 offenders with three major types of mental illness. 3% of their crimes were directly related to symptoms of depression, 4% were to symptoms of schizophrenia and 10% symptoms of bipolar disorder. The study concludes by saying “the vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent, not criminal and dangerous” this is supported by the fact that only a few criminals who use insanity as a defense are given a lighter sentence.
Lastly, so if it’s not mental illness, what could cause an otherwise rational human being to take the life of another. what would cause a Mum like Susan Smith to strap her children in a car and drive to the river and watch them drown and go on national TV and lie to the world about it? Did OJ Simpson kill his ex-wife? Unless he reveals it to us himself, we will never know. Evil exists, some people just want to do harm just for the sake of, and the only thing that keeps communities like the one in Texas is knowing that a higher being that sees and knows the thinking of every person and will judge them accordingly.