The Irresistible Impulse

(by Andrew Garofolo)

The Irresistible Impulse

In order to fix some of the problems with McNaughton Rule, the “Irresistible Impulse” was introduced. The McNaughton Rule was said to focus too much on the defendant’s ability to know from right and wrong (“A Crime of Insanity,” 2012). It does not take into consideration enough the control of impulsiveness. For some defendants, they were able to tell if the action was wrong, however they were unable to stop themselves. This is where the Irresistible Impulse sought to fix this particular problem with the McNaughton Rule, and further the advancement of the insanity defense in history.

Under this the Irresistible Impulse, the defendant would state that because of mental disease or defect, they were unable to control their behavior at the time of the criminal act. (Constanzo, 2004). The defendant would be considered not guilty if they could prove that they legitimately could not control themselves at the time of the crime.

The irresistible impulse first made an appearance in the US in 1844, with the case of Commonwealth vs. Rogers.

  • A man named Abner Roger stabbed and killed a prison warden. His defense was that that he was insane during the actual stabbing.
  • The judge ruled that if there were an irresistible impulse to commit the crime, the defendant would be not guilty.




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

PBS Frontline Editors. (2012). A Crime of Insanity. PBS Frontline. Retrieved from

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