The McNaughton Rules

(By Andrew Garofolo)

Prior to the McNaughton Rules, there was no clear set way of dealing with the insane in the court room. In 1843, a man named Daniel McNaughton attempted an assassination on the Prime Minister, and accidentally shot the secretary of the Prime Minister. McNaughton suffered from what might be considered today as paranoia and delusions of prosecution. He believed the government was out to get him (Constanzo, 2004).

After a lengthy trial, McNaughton was acquitted of his actions because he was deemed “insane.” Thus, he was not held accountable for his actions. This ruling outraged the public, and provoked a redefinition of what “insanity” was. Therefore, the House of Lords met, and established the main idea that posed as the question, “did the defendant know what he was doing, or, if so, that it was wrong?”

A few basic parts to the McNaughton Rule:

  • There is a presumption, that the defendant is sane, and that they are responsible for their criminal acts.
  • At the time of the crime, the defendant must have been suffering from a “disease of the mind.”
  • If the defendant knows the nature of the crime, do they know what they did was wrong. (“United Kingdom House of Lords Decisions,” 1843).

In 1851, the McNaughton Rule was adopted in the US court system. There were several criticisms to the McNaughton Rule including:

  • In 1851, the McNaughton Rule was adopted in the US court system. There were several criticisms to the McNaughton Rule including:
    • There was medical irrelevance, making it not as valid.
    • There was ineffectiveness to distinguish between those who represent a public danger, and who do not.
    • There were problems with sentencing.
    • It did not permit complete and adequate testimony, making it less trusted.

Referenences

Costanzo, M. (2004). Psychology Applied to Law.  Belmont, CA:Wadsworth/Thomson Learning

“United Kingdom House of Lords Decisions.” (1843) M’Naghten’s Case. UKHL J16 (19 June 1843). JISC, n.d. Retrieved from http://www.bailii.org/uk/cases/UKHL/1843/J16.html

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