Date of this Version
The history of the not guilty by reason of insanity (NGRI) defense has been characterized by an extended search for a satisfactory standard. For many years, the M'Naghten test was the standard applied by the majority of courts in the United States. The M'Naghten test has been widely criticized, however, as being too narrow, over-emphasizing the cognitive aspect of personality, and artificially restricting the scope of expert testimony. In 1955, the American Law Institute (ALI) proposed an alternative standard as part of its Model Penal Code. Since that time, there has been a marked trend in many jurisdictions from the M'Naghten test to the ALI standard.
During the last few years, however, a new series of developments suggests a reversal of this trend, and a move back toward M'Naghten. These developments include recent recommendations of the American Bar Association (ABA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA), a recently passed federal statute, and a recently passed California statute as interpreted by the Supreme Court of California in People v. Skinner. This Note will examine these recent developments and their reported purposes, with particular attention directed toward their apparent success in achieving these purposes which include clarifying the insanity defense standard and avoiding moral mistakes.