The Guilty But Mentally Ill Verdict
The occasionally controversial consequences of the insanity defense, epitomized by John Hinckley's acquittal, have recently spawned a rash of legislative attempts to prevent similar outcomes in future cases. Three states have abolished the insanity defense entirely, permitting evidence of mental abnormality only when relevant to the state of mind required for the offense. Several other states have opted for less dramatic steps: tinkering with the insanity test; shifting the burden of proof to the defendant; or both. By far the most popular "solution" to the "insanity defense problem," however, is what has become known as the guilty but mentally ill verdict. Although there are as many variations of the guilty but mentally ill verdict as there are statutes endorsing it, all such legislation is designed to provide the factfinder with an additional option to the three traditional verdicts of guilty, not guilty, and not guilty by reason of insanity. Under the typical formulation, if the jury finds a defendant who asserts the insanity defense guilty and not insane, it may alternatively find him guilty but mentally ill at the time of the offense. If the defendant is found guilty but mentally ill the court may impose any sentence appropriate for the offense, but the defendant is eligible for treatment in prison or a mental hospital while incarcerated. Proponents of guilty but mentally ill legislation hope to reduce insanity acquittals and provide greater protection to the public by offering judges and juries a compromise verdict that purportedly ensures both prolonged incarceration and treatment for the mentally ill offender.