Sheila LaBarre has been accused of murdering two men in New Hampshire. At trial she has admitted the prosecution has enough evidence to prove she killed them and then burned one of their bodies but made a not guilty by reason of insanity plea. She has stated that both men were pedophiles and made statements that she was an angel sent by God to get rid of pedophiles.
New Hampshire’s law with regard to insanity in criminal cases uses a two-pronged test to determine whether a defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity. The burden is on the defense to present a case to prove insanity. That is why the defense goes first in an insanity trial, the opposite of a usual trial.
The defense must first show that LaBarre suffered from a mental disease or defect. Then, it must show the murders were a product of that mental disease or defect. Neither “mental disease” or “defect” has been defined by the Legislature or the courts which means it is up to the jury to decide whether the evidence presented about LaBarre qualifies.
How would the defense go about proving LaBarre’s insanity under the New Hampshire statute? Under M’Nagthen? Under Durham? Do you think they would be successful? Why or why not?
ADD WORKS CITED:
Textbook Schmalleger, F. (2006). Criminal law today: An introduction with capstone cases (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
As stated in the text, (Pg. 198) even when a defendant suffers from a disability, however, that disability alone is not sufficient to excuse him or her of criminal responsibility. Only when the disability has the effect of in some way contributing to the criminal activity in question will the actor be excused.
According to the text (Pg. 268) The wrongfulness component of the M’Naughten Rule has been criticized for the fact that it focuses only on the cognitive component of the personality. In other words, to know that one’s actions are wrong requires the ability to think and to judge. Also, the M’Naughten Rule does not allow for degrees of insanity. Under the rule, either a person knows what he or she is doing, and knows that it is wrong, or he or she does not. With this rule there is no middle ground.
The text also states that the Durham Rule, also known as the “product rule”, built on the court’s belief that an inability to distinguish right from wrong is merely a symptom of mental disease, and that behavior resulting from the disease is a more apt determinant of legal insanity (Pg. 271).