Madmen and bedlam
I thought D.J. Jaffe got to the hard question in the case of Jared Loughner:
But as a relative of someone with mental illness, I know that under current law, families of the mentally ill are often powerless to do anything other than say, “Go to a doctor,” until after their children become “danger to self or others.” You can call the mental-health authorities or police all you want, but until your loved one is “danger to self or others,” in the name of “civil liberties” you’re powerless.
Pundits and politicians are busy blaming Jared Loughner’s parents for not preventing him from shooting Gabrielle Giffords. It’s a common approach: blame the parents.
Meanwhile, is Loughner insane? Is anyone? Dahlia Lithwick at Slate on the difficulty of the insanity defense:
In fact, it’s no small irony that the insanity defense has become almost impossible to prove, precisely because people just like Loughner have occasionally managed to prove it. And so I dearly hope that everyone who feels comfortable diagnosing him from afar today will stand by their diagnoses in the weeks to come. If you are going to advance the argument that he is neither culpable nor rational, then it follows that he should not be convicted for his actions.
To prevail in proving insanity in federal court today, the accused bears the burden of proving by “clear and convincing evidence” (a standard that was heightened in recent years) that “at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, was unable to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his acts.” As Andrew Cohen noted this morning, no matter how crazy he may have seemed, the evidence already suggests that Loughner knew he was about to commit a crime.