– Contrary to popular belief, the insanity defense is not overused. It’s used in only about 1% of felony trials and successful only about a quarter of the time it is used. 90% of people who successfully plead insanity had been diagnosed with a disorder before they committed their crime.
– Felons found insane usually get locked up in forensic hospitals even longer than sane felons are locked up in prisons. Some statistics say that by pleading insanity you increase your time behind bars by 50 – 100%
– For some reason, there is a law saying juries are not allowed to be told what will happen to defendants if they return a certain verdict. Juries assume that if a defendant is found “not guilty by reason of insanity”, they will be released scot-free. Although this is completely false, no one is allowed to tell the jury this. So it’s really hard to win an insanity defense simply because juries think it will mean a felon will be put right back on the streets.
– Forensic psychiatrists have become very effective at determining which criminals who plead insanity are “faking it”. They usually rely on patterns of mental disease which psychiatrists know but criminals don’t. For example, they’ll start by asking “Do you hear voices?”, and most fakers, anxious to please, say they do. Then the psychiatrist will ask questions like “Which side of your head do the voices come from?” and “Do you ever have smells associated with the voices?” Still eager to please, the fakers will choose a side of the head for their voices to be on, and make up smells that happen at the same time as their voices. But real schizophrenics don’t generally hear their voices to one side or hallucinate smells, so this decreases the likelihood that they’re telling the truth. Some of these questions are very tricky – for example, one psychiatrist asks both “Do you ever hear secret messages for you from the TV or radio?” and “Do cats and dogs ever give you secret messages?”. The first is very common in mental illness; the second practically never happens. Unless you’re a psychiatrist yourself, you’re not going to know these things and you’ll end up claiming symptoms that make no sense.
– Some criminals also claim to be mentally retarded, especially in states where it’s illegal to execute retarded people. The process for catching these people is equally elegant. They are asked to take a multiple-choice vocabulary test with easy, medium, and difficult words. Real mentally retarded people will do okay on the easy words but perform at chance on the medium and difficult words. Fakers will also do okay on the easy words – they are smart enough to understand that even mentally retarded people know some things – but then they intentionally throw the medium words and do worse than chance. On the difficult words, the fakers honestly don’t know them and so they go back to performing at chance again. Computers can detect these patterns and easily and confidently point out a fake.
[is it contrary to the Virtue of Silence to reveal such things? Nah; I checked and other much more prominent media have discussed them already. Any criminal Googling ways to fake insanity effectively already has enough sources to work from.]
– My notes say Baxter vs. Harold, but I must have miscopied because Google can’t find it – but anyway, it was a case in which New York State took nine hundred something felons who had finished their prison terms and transferred them to mental institutions because they were “too dangerous to let back on the streets”. One of the felons sued, and the court agreed that this was illegal, and the state could not confine prisoners after their sentence ended just because of high risk. Some bright scientist decided to turn this into a study and see how many of these designated “high-risk offenders” actually re-offended after [unreadable] number of years. The answer was 22. 22 out of nine-hundred or something. I wish I could find this study online. The point is that forensic psychiatrists were terrible at predicting who is or is not a future risk, although the forensic psychiatrist giving the talk assured us confidently that they are much better now.
[several pages of mandalas and other geometrical figures where these notes should be; apparently I got distracted]
– A fragment of a story from one of the examples we were given: “She said she started the fire because her ninth child was taken away by Child Protective Services, just as her previous eight children had been.” This wins my prize for “best single-sentence argument for some kind of parenting license or eugenics or something”
– Another fragment of a story: “The night before his execution, murderer Troy Gregg sawed through the bars of his cell, donned a homemade prison guard uniform, and accomplished the first death row breakout in Georgia history. He was beaten to death in a bar fight later that night.”
– A fragment of a story told by the keynote speaker: “My interest in murder cases started when I was a child. When I was five, my babysitter Wilson was arrested for strangling his wife. He served three years in prison. When he got out, he was my babysitter again. Those were less safety-conscious times.”
[several pages of notes in a moderately successful attempt to write English in an ideographic script. Unfortunately, I can’t remember what the ideographs mean well enough to decode the content.]
– Dutiful recording of a claim by the keynote speaker that a vastly disproportionate number of death row inmates have the middle name “Lee”.
– During a death penalty case, jurors who don’t believe in capital punishment (and therefore would throw the case for reasons other than the defendant’s guilt or innocence) are automatically excluded from participating. But those jurors are usually more liberal, and the pro-capital-punishment jurors who get tapped are usually more conservative. Liberal jurors are usually more likely to acquit any type of criminal, and conservatives more likely to convict. Therefore, in certain cases it can be easier to get a death penalty conviction than a life in prison conviction, because you’re throwing the most merciful jurors out of the potential pool.
– Psychologist who works with death row inmates on a daily basis says “There’s not one defendant I ever met who ever considered not committing his crime because he was worried about getting the death penalty.” He said this makes him think death penalty is not an effective deterrent. I can’t help but wonder if maybe all the people it effectively deters don’t end up on death row talking to a forensic psychologist.
– The keynote speaker worked on the case of an Ohio school shooter who tried to plead insanity. Later, the shooter changed his mind and said he had only done that because he was bored, but pleading insanity was also boring so he would just accept the sentence. He somehow managed to make it into the courtroom for the sentencing hearing wearing a shirt reading “KILLER”. When asked if he wanted to address the victim’s families – usually a chance for some last minute apologizing, he said (and I quote) “The hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory”, then gave them the finger. This is my new go-to story when someone says that evil is merely the absence of good.
– Said during a capital trial by a none-too-bright con: “On advice of my accountant, I invoke my Fifth Commitment rights”.