crime and mental health

Crime and Mental Health – Jimoh Samuel

Crime and Mental Health

Crime and the state of mental health are two inseparable phenomenon. The general rule is that every person is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.

There is an implied test on the rationality of the accused. Matter of factly, it forms the basis of court’s verdict. If the mental disorder affects the rationality of the accused, the court exonerate him from severe legal responsibilities, perhaps place him on treatment, since he does not meet the requisite of mens rea.

However, there is a question whether mental disorder is voluntarily caused or involuntary. A voluntary mental disorder is caused by intentional use of substance abuse, known as Substance Use Disorder.

Therefore, Should court indulge crimes caused by Voluntary drug Addiction? Should an accused be released if he does not have criminal intent, since mental disorder distort perception/intention?

Substance use Disorder is the mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior leading to their inability to control their use of substance either legal or illegal drugs, alcohol and medications. It is otherwise called drug Addiction.

There are a number of disorders caused by Substance use abuse to wit; schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Panic Disorder among others. Each of these disorders has it potential attendant crime.

Using Schizophrenia as a case study. There is a causal link between schizophrenia and violence. People with schizophrenia was found to be four times more likely to be convicted of violence and ten times more likely to be convicted of homicide than the general population (Lindgvist & Allebeck;1990). Studies traced all arrest for violence to mental illness (Brennam, Mednick and Hodgins;2000). Eronen discovered schizophrenia cause 8-fold increase in homicide by men and 6.5 fold increase by women (Eronen, Hakok and Tilhonen;1996).

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Since there is likelihood that a person suffering from mental disease will cause a violent crime, affecting the wellness of the victim. Peradventure issue of crime is filed against him in the court, if a defense of insanity is raised and convincingly argued, there is reasonability of his acquittance. Insanity is any problem that negatively affect the degree of mental health, such that the victim of the disability deviate from normal thinking pattern and behaves irrationally without knowledge, is insanity in legal space.

The potency of drug to afflict the user with mental disorder that make them a difficult law abiding citizens is insanity. The rule was pronounced in M’Naughten’s case (1843) 8ER 718. The house of lords held that ‘insanity is a defense for the accused to show that he was laboring under such a defect of reason due to disease of the mind so as either not to know the nature and quality of his act or if he knew the nature and quality of his act, he didn’t know what he was doing is wrong.’

One would suppose the court will discharge the accused seeing that he his mentally challenged. It is imperative to reiterate here that mental disorder occasion the distortion of intent or perception. In other words, valid assumption can be made that a mentally disabled person has the primary problem of forming the standard of mens rea. Consequently, where there is absence of proof of specific intent, the court cannot find the accused guilty of murder.

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In classical common law, proof of guilty mind is a demand before every common law offence, which attitude is greeted with irrebutable presumption. If only it can be ascertained that an accused has no criminal intent, it follows that no evidence can rebut the claim. The contrary is obtained in modern times, Nigeria specifically. In Nigeria, there is no irrebutable presumption of mens rea.

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It is best expressed in Sherras V De Rutzen 1898 I. Q. B 918 ‘…there is a presumption that mens rea, or evil intention or knowledge of the wrongfulness of the act, is an essential ingredient in every offence; but that presumption is sieved to be displaced either by the words of the statute creating the offence, or by the subject matter with which it deals, and both must be considered.’ It suffice to say, court is not bound by the presentation of the evidence of deviation of normal thinking pattern, which mean mens rea standard not formed.

In Clark V Arizona, 548 U. S. 735 (2006) the principle was expressly applied. Clark killed a police officer, claiming he had a paranoid schizophrenia which dispossess him the opportunity to form normal thinking pattern, therefore, rubbing him of intent to commit the crime at the time the crime was perpetuated. The court held ‘Arizona does not allow evidence of mental disorder short of insanity to negate the mens rea element of a crime.’

The rule of insanity does not apply to voluntary use of drug. Everybody possess the obligation to be at arm’s length with conducts that can harm others. In R v Lipman (1970)I. Q. B 152, LSD was voluntarily consumed by the defendant. The resultant effect was that he had an illusion of descending to the center of the earth and being attacked by snake.

In his attempt to defend himself from the attack of the deadly reptile he hit the victim (also an LSD addict) two blows on his head resulting to brain damage and he forced bedsheet into her mouth causing her to die of Asphyxia, his defense was rejected as Widgery LJ said ‘for the purpose of criminal responsibility, we see no reason to distinguish between the effects of drugs voluntarily taken and drunkenness voluntarily induced.’ It is an obligation on the part of all loyal citizens to refrain from any act that may threaten the peace of other.

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The covert cause of crime, often, is the mental status of a person. While mental disorder can be caused voluntarily or it can start from experiences presented by harsh life realities, or involuntary.

Either ways, the court should not tolerate voluntary use of substance that disjoint mental propriety and reasonability causing life threatening crimes on the populace. Instances where an accused hides under the umbrella of insanity should be thoroughly sieved and proved by court, if its permissibility will abort the pregnancy of justice.


About Author

Jimoh Samuel is a law student at Obafemi Awolowo Univerysity, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. He loves writing academic articles. He became a volunteer at LawGlobal Hub in January, 2023.

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