We would argue that in the absence of laws to force hospitalization of mentally ill offenders, many would go to prison and be victimized. This goes against all historical and humane thinking that some people truly cannot be held to general standards of conduct because of mental conditions over which they have no control.
Burden of Proof
Defining the burden of proof presents another issue in the insanity defense. Who has to prove what and how do they prove it? Since the average citizen is presumed to be sane, if they claim insanity, who decides? Does the prosecution have to prove defendants are not insane, or do the people who ask the court to find them not guilty by reason of insanity have to justify themselves? Most states have gone with the latter, but it certainly has not always been that way. In the aftermath of the Hinckley case, many states shifted the burden of proof to the defendant.
There has also been discussion on the amount of proof required. Should insanity be proved only by 51% (e.g., a preponderance of evidence), or does it need a standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt"? Generally, laws give the benefit to the accused and logically would not require more than the preponderance standard. This issue was addressed when, in State v Coffman (1864), California was the first jurisdiction to review M'Naughten officially. Soon after, in 1879, the Alabama Supreme Court, in Boswell v State, rendered an opinion that we see as holding to the spirit of the original insanity laws and which, in our opinion, reads well:
Since an unsound mind cannot form a criminal intentýinsanity, when proved, is a complete defense, but no defense is more easily simulated, and the evidenceýmust therefore be carefully and considerably scannedýThe workings of a diseased mind are so variant that it is difficult to lay down an absolute rule for the government of all cases. Each case must depend, more or less, on its own particular factsýIt ought to be proved thatýat the time he committed the act, he did not consider it a crime against the laws of God and natureýIf there is any reasonable doubt as to sanity, the jury should acquit him.
Currently, insanity is a well-established defense in this country. Although efforts to eliminate this way of escaping punishment will continue to generate attention, it is unlikely that our laws will eliminate the essential difference between those who choose to break the law and those who cannot choose.