The “Insanity defence” is a legal strategy used by defendants to argue that they should not be held criminally responsible for their actions due to a mental illness or defect at the time of the crime. While it’s an important aspect of the justice system to consider mental health in criminal cases, some argue that it can be misused or exploited as a loophole. The defence of insanity is defined in Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 84, generally known as insanity law, protects a mentally ill individual from criminal culpability and provides them with a defence. The premise underlying this law is that when a person commits an infraction in an appropriate state of insanity, the guilty heart does not realize what he or she is doing, and the law prohibits the act.
Section 84, IPC:
Certainly, here’s a breakdown of the key aspects of Section 84 of the Indian Penal Code regarding insanity:
1. Unsoundness of Mind: The section applies when the accused was of unsound mind at the time of the offense, meaning they were not in a state to understand the nature of their actions.
2. Inability to Comprehend Act: It covers situations where the person, due to their mental condition, was incapable of understanding the nature and consequences of their actions.
3. Lack of Understanding Legality: The accused should also demonstrate an inability to comprehend that what they were doing was against the law or illegal.
4. Exclusion of Wilful Ignorance: The defence doesn’t hold if it’s proven that the accused intentionally ignored or chose to remain ignorant about the legality of their actions.
5. Legal Principles: It aligns with legal principles such as “actus reus” (an act isn’t a crime unless there’s a wrongful intention) and “furiosi nulla voluntas est” (a mentally ill person lacks free will and can’t form intent).
6. Requirement of Evidence: Mere existence of a mental illness isn’t enough; the defence requires evidence showing the incapacity of the accused to comprehend the nature and consequences of the offense due to their mental condition.
The Burden of Proof:
In the eyes of the law, every individual is presumed innocent and reasonably justified in their actions unless proven otherwise. However, when it comes to the insanity defence, the obligation of prove comes on the person who need the defence of insanity in Law. An accused individual seeking the defence of insanity must convincingly demonstrate, typically through oral and written evidence, that they were legally considered mentally impaired at the time of the offense. For example, they may need to prove their inability to comprehend the nature of the act or its illegality.
In the case of Anandrao Bhosale v. The State of Maharashtra, the Supreme Court highlighted that the burden of proof lies with the party claiming the benefits of Section 84, specifically at the time when the crime was committed. Also, in T.N. Lakshmaiah v. the State of Karnataka, the Apex Court noted that in civil disputes, the defendant holds the responsibility to prove their argument by a preponderance of evidence, meaning by a standard closer to prevailing probability.
Pros of Insanity Defence:
There is not always a negative effect of any exception and defence in Law. Defences were made for equality and for favouring the accused so that no decision goes one way. There should be defence for a really insane, not being able to sense the effect or seriousness of the crime. Thus certain points are supporting the same:
1. It presents a solution where a convicted individual with other mental disorders receives support, although such cases remain a minority.
2. When a defendant, unable to fully grasp the seriousness of their actions, confesses to a crime, this shield prevents the imposition of the death penalty.
3. In a country like India, this safeguard offers relief to mentally challenged individuals found guilty of a crime. It enables their official disqualification and acquittal due to the recognition of their mental condition, offering solace to those convicted.
4. For a mentally ill adult, this defence essentially acts as a lifeline, placing them in a position similar to that of a child unaware of their actions’ consequences. Consequently, imposing severe penalties on such individuals would be deemed unethical.
Cons of the Insanity Defence:
1. In several countries, the insanity defence has been abolished due to its widespread misuse. Nations like the United States, Germany, Argentina, and Thailand have already removed this provision. Misunderstandings about the abuse of this defence, leading to numerous violent criminals being acquitted, have undermined the original intent of this legal framework.
2. As per the section, proving insanity as a defence poses significant challenges. While medical assessments can establish insanity, the legal system demands a more precise description of the mental state, complicating the process. Consequently, individuals claiming insanity often end up being convicted and penalized due to this complexity.
3. Using the defence of ignorance to evade acquittal or penalties is seen as unethical. Determining an individual’s mental state at the time of the crime is complicated and relies heavily on judicial interpretation, sometimes causing the law to lose its essential essence.
4. A person having well knowledge in law, can save a culprit by insanity defence. It has been observed in several cases that “insanity defence” is falsely taken in many pre-planned, cold-blooded crimes.
The insanity defence in legal cases is controversial. It’s meant to factor in mental health but can be manipulated. Some fake or exaggerate mental illness to avoid responsibility. Proving insanity is tough and often results in convictions, not acquittals. This loophole shows the challenge of being fair to the mentally ill while stopping misuse in courts.
Aditya Pratap is a lawyer and founder of Aditya Pratap Law Offices. He practices in the realm of real estate, corporate, and criminal law. His website is adityapratap.in and his media interviews can be accessed at http://www.youtube.com/@AdityaPratap/featured. Views expressed are personal.
this article has been assisted by Akarsh Agarwal, a 3rd year law student pursuing B.B.A.LL.B. from Babu Banarasi University, Lucknow.