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OBSERVATIONS

ON THE

CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

OF THE

I N S A NE;

FOUNDED ON THE TRIALS OF

James Bill and af William Dave:

TO WHICH ARE APPENDED FULL REPORTS OF THE SAME.

BY CALEB WILLIAMS, M.D.

LONDON:
JOHN CHURCHILL, NEW BURLINGTON STREET.

YORK:
WILLIAM SIMPSON, LOW OUSEGATE.

1856.

157. Q.139.

The Case of James Will.

The recent occurrence of cases of unprovoked and horrible crime, in which the plea of insanity has been put forward, has attracted the attention of the members of the two professions of Law and Medicine, and is freely discussed by the community at large. And seeing the difference of opinion which exists on the validity of the plea of insanity, and on the degree of responsibility of alleged lunatics, it is proposed in these remarks, to make some observations which may lead to a more correct knowledge of the subject, and which may indicate the mode of arriving at a right conclusion in particular cases. This is not only desirable on account of those members of the medical profession who have little opportunity of becoming acquainted with the phenomena of insanity, and who are, nevertheless, frequently called upon to give evidence on the subject in Courts of Justice; but it is also desirable for the information of the Judges and members of the legislature, that they, who take part in framing the laws, as well as they whose province it is to administer them, may have their attention especially directed to this branch of jurisprudence, and to the present advanced state of psychological medicine.

The close of the last, and the earlier part of the present century, were marked by a large increase of our knowledge of the science of mind in its healthy and normal manifestations ; but to more recent authors has been reserved the merit of clearly unfolding the phenomena of the huinan mind in its unhealthy and abnormal manifestations. The light which has been thus shed upon medical jurisprudence, has been derived from the study of insanity as a disease, and from the pathological investigations of the brain, and other parts of the nervous system. The investigation of the functions of the brain, in health and disease, have contributed to show, that the brain is not one simple homogeneous mass; but composed of many and various parts, each ministering to its respective functions, and each exerting a species of independent action, whilst at the same time performing its functions in concert with the other parts of the brain. In disease this consentaneous action is more or less disturbed, and th functions of the several parts cease to present that harmonious action, which characterizes the healthy standard of the individual.

Since the days of stripes and chains have passed away, and insanity has been subjected to the systematic and regular observation employed in the study of other diseases, medical men have become familiar with the varied forms of mental disorder, and are thus enabled to reconcile those phenomena which, to the ordinary observer, appear so conflicting and extraordinary.

The experience of every day attests the varied degrees of mental activity and power, within the limits of perfect health ; and also the varied degree of development of the different faculties of the mind, whether of the intellect, the sensibilities, or the passions. In insanity and other abnormal conditions of the brain, as intoxication, dreaming, and somnambulism, the natural variations are the more obvious and striking. The functions of some portions of the brain, in other words, some departments of mind may

be excited, perverted or enfeebled, whilst others retain their normal degree of activity and power. Thus the intellect may be affected in one, giving rise to false perceptions, and delusions,-in another the sentiments and emotions may be disordered, as shown by perverted feelings and unnatural propensities, or depraved habits,—whilst in a third, the instincts or animal passions are no longer under the control of the reason and the judgment.

The law of England, as it now stands, recognizes only two forms of mental disorder-idiocy and lunacy. With regard to idiocy, whether from birth or early infancy, it is generally selfevident, admits of no question, and gives rise to no disputes. Under the term lunacy, varied as is mental derangement in form and degree, is included every other species of mental aberration, and in cases where a criminal charge is made against an individual, and the plea of insanity is brought forward, the judges in pointing out the law of the land as applicable to such cases, restrict the inquiry to the single question :—was the individual at the time he committed the act able to distinguish between right and wrong?

In the case of Hill, who cut off the head of his own nephew, Judge Willes, in his very clear and intelligible address to the jury, directed them to consider, whether the evidence satisfied them, that at the time the prisoner at the bar took the life of his nephew," he knew the nature and quality of the act he was doing, and that it was wrong." This judicial test of responsibility, like most definitions of insanity, is applicable only to a certain number of cases, and actually excludes a large proportion of those cases of insanity, in which criminal acts are usually committed. Does the suicide, at the moment he is cutting his own throat, know that he is doing what is wrong? Is it not as unnatural for a man in cool blood, and without any the slightest provocation to murder his wife or his children, as to take his own life ? and yet by common consent, the law agreeing thereto, the suicide is almost invariably considered insane, whilst the poor creature who is hurried forward by an irresistible propensity, resulting from a morbid condition of his brain, to imbrue his hands in the blood of those who are near and dear to him, is denounced as a murderer, and hardly escapes the gallows. That there is some analogy between homicide and suicide, and that they both arise from a morbid condition, or disordered function of the brain, may be inferred, from the coexistence of the propensity to the one and to the other in the same

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