Abstract reason of insanity. Introduction In the United



            Today, many trials conclude in
wrongful verdicts due to the misjudgments made by jurors. This often occurs in
cases, in which, the defendant’s sanity is being questioned. It is even more
prevalent in cases with unusual circumstances. This study examines the effects
of the unusualness of a crime on the juror’s decision to determine whether a
defendant is sane or insane. The study was conducted by presenting participants
with two homicide cases, both included multiple versions, in which, details
were manipulated. These manipulations included, the motive given by the
prosecutor, the motive given by the defense attorney, and the unusualness of
the crime. (Pickel, 1999) This study proved that there is a relationship
between the unusualness of a crime and the tendency for a juror to rule in
favor of not guilty by reason of insanity.

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            In the United States, the insanity
defense is used often used in trials to dismiss the charges of a defendant by
ruling NGRI, or not guilty by reason of insanity. In many cases, this can lead
to an unjust verdict, especially due to the juror’s own biases on what
constitutes an individual as insane. “According
to the American Law Institute, “a defendant should be found not guilty by
reason of insanity (NGRI) if, at the time of the illegal act was committed, a
mental defect substantially reduced the defendant’s ability either to realize
that the act was wrong or to conform his or her behavior to the law.”
(Pickel, 1999) However, many jurors will base their verdict on other, less
significant factors, such as a defendant’s behavior during his or her
trial.  For example, if a defendant is
fidgeting during his or her trial, some jurors may conclude this is due to the
defendant feeling anxiety or uneasiness from his or her own guilt. Thus,
leading to the jurors to determine that the defendant is guilty, which may be
an improper verdict. In order to establish what causes a juror to rule one way
versus another, researchers conducted a study on the unusualness of a crime,
and its effects on a juror’s decision, in relation to, a defendant’s sanity. “An unusual crime is typically defined as
any crime that can be described as odd, or bizarre.” (Pickel, 1999) This
study shows the correlation between an unusual crime, and a juror’s decision to
choose not guilty by reason of insanity as a verdict.



            The participants of this study,
which all came from a Midwestern university, were given two homicide cases,
which were created specifically for this study to use as stimuli. Each case had
multiple versions, including three independent variables: the motive given by
the prosecutor, the motive given by the defense attorney, and the unusualness
of a crime.

motive given by the prosecutor included a strong motive, a weak motive, or no
motive. The motive given by the defense attorney included a crazy motive or no
motive. The unusualness of the crime included an unusual crime or no
unusualness.” (Pickel, 1999)

            For example, in Case 1, the
defendant pleaded guilty to shooting and killing his neighbor, while his
attorney articulated the the jury that his client was insane, which in one
version was believable due to that the defendant claimed he believed his neighbor
was an alien attempting to abduct him, while in another version the defendant
had claimed that he had killed the man due to that his wife confessed to had
having an affair with the neighbor. (Pickel, 1999) Each participant would read
each of the homicide cases presented to him or her. After the participant was
finished reading both homicide cases, he or she would then give his or her
verdict of, either, guilty of second degree murder or not guilty by reason of insanity.
The participant was also asked to give his or her opinion on other factors of
each of the cases, as well. “Each of the
participants were also asked to complete a questionnaire using a 7-point scale
to rate the defendant’s sanity, as well as the unusualness of the crime that
was committed.” (Pickel, 1999) After the participants completed each of
these tasks, he or she was then debriefed and thanked for their participation
in the study.



            This study concluded that there is a
correlation between the unusualness of a crime, and a juror’s decision on a
defendant’s sanity. The more unusual a crime is considered; the more likely a
juror’s verdict will be not guilty by reason of insanity. Whereas, the more
conventional the crime is; the more likely a juror’s verdict will be guilty.
This also pertains to the motives given, as well. In both homicide cases, the strong
motive was found to be a more reasonable motive to kill, than the weak motive.
Also, in both cases the crazy motive was found to be more bizarre, than no
motive. “Finally, the participants who
concluded that the defendant was insane, believed that he was less likely to
understand that his actions were wrong, was less able to control his behavior,
and did not pre-meditate the crime.” (Pickel, 1999) The results of this
study prove that not only does the unusualness of a crime effect a juror’s
verdict, but the motive of the defendant also effects this decision.



            This study concludes that there is a
correlation between the unusualness of a crime, as well as the motive behind a
defendant’s actions, and the verdict of a juror. However, other factors, such
as a juror’s own bias opinion on insanity, effects his or her verdict. Thus,
leading to improper verdicts. This study also showed some limitations. This
study only included participants from a Midwestern university. This makes it
difficult to generalize the results. The study could be repeated, but to a
wider demographic, in order to make results generalizable. The other limitation
in this study is that this study was not conducted in a realistic setting. This
makes it difficult to compare these results to a real-life trial. However,
improper verdicts have become a recent issue in the United States, this study
could give insight into this growing issue.



            In Reading 29 of, 40-Studies, the issue of stigmatization
is discussed. Many people associate certain stigmas with those who are mentally
ill. This does not occur just in courtrooms, but hospitals, as well as many
other places. Health professionals, jurors, and everyday people use stigmas
daily, especially concerning those who are mentally ill. Reading 29, as well as
this article, enlightens its audience on how these stigmas effect people in
various ways. It also brings attention to the growing issue of stigmatization.
Both of these readings give insight to the issue of people’s own biases, as
well as what those people being labeled with these stigmas face of a day to day
basis. Researchers continue to investigate the issue of stigmatization, which
gives hope that this problem will one day be resolved. Researchers exploit the
possible risks and threats that stigmas and labels cause, in many different
situations. They continue to try to diminish these reoccurring stigmas and
labels used toward the mentally ill.