Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity Plea

Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity Plea

The Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity Plea also known as the insanity defense is a scenario in a court of law where the defendant is exempted from any criminal actions or behaviors due to perceived mental illness (Fersch, 2005). Such rulings are common in countries such as the UK, US, and Ireland where defendants are subjected to mental evaluations to justify the levels of mental incapacity. An example of a case in which an insanity issue arose regarding a violent offender is the Ford v Wainwright, 477 US 399 (1986). In this case, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the rule that the insane, in this case, Alvin Bernard Ford, could not be executed because of his perceived mental illness or incapacity (Scheb & Scheb, 2011). As per the US constitution, Ford was entitled to a competency evaluation and evidentiary hearing to address the concern about his competency.

There are myriads of mental disorder symptoms and behaviors that were exhibited by Ford, which prompted the appellate court to reverse the lower court’s decision that championed and had ruled in favor of Ford’s execution. Ford had been convicted of murder and was on death row until his mental health diminished forcing the appellate court to reexamine the previous ruling made by a lower court. One of the mental disorder symptoms or behavior that was considered by the appellate court was that of Ford referring to himself as Pope John Paul III. Also, Ford reported several accomplishments one of them being thwarting a vast Ku Klux Klan conspiracy to bury deceased prisoners within the prison. Ford’s mental capacity was also compromised when he foiled prison guards’ attempt to torture his female relatives that were in the prison. Another mental disorder symptom that was considered by the court to rule on Ford’s case was that which saw him personally appoint nine new justices to the Supreme Court in Florida, although he had no power or authority to execute the same. Moreover, the appellate court leveraged on Ford’s claim that he was free to go whenever he wanted and his theory that any individual who would be involved in his execution would also be executed.

Essentially, a reasonable person in Ford’s situation would not exhibit the symptoms or behaviors that Ford showed. For example, it would be hard for a reasonable person to refer to himself or herself as Pope John Paul III having the knowledge or understanding of how impracticable or impossible that was. Besides, on ordinary occasions, convicted persons avoid getting involved in controversies as that would worsen their situation. However, Ford was involved in numerous controversies without fear of worsening the situation at hand. For instance, he foiled an attempt by prison guards to torture his female relatives in the same prison and also made claims that any person who would execute him would also, in turn, be executed. Thus, the relationship between Ford’s actions and behavior that caused the court to remand him for a mental evaluation is highlighted.

With a focus on the outcome of the case, it should be noted that after an examination of Ford’s behavior and mental illness, it was ruled that Ford had the capability of understanding the nature of the death penalty and the possible impact of such a penalty on him (Moriarty, 2014). In respect of this, a death warrant was signed by Louie L Wainwright, a move against which Ford appealed. Thus, the outcome of the case at the appellate court was that Wainwright was wrong in his decision and that states were barred from inflicting capital punishment on insane individuals such as Ford. The appellate court further ordered that Ford was to be transferred to Florida State Hospital, where he was reevaluated and was found to have a mental illness, a perspective that prevented his execution. In terms of the victim of Ford’s murder incident, no favorable decision was made by the appellate court as it upheld that Ford’s actions were done out of incompetence or mental illness. The outcome of the case meant that the presence of individuals such as Ford would put the community at great risk as there was no law to bar them from committing atrocities (Peay, 2010).

Arguably, the appellate court made the right decision to prevent Ford’s execution. Without a doubt, with the mental disorder symptoms and behaviors exhibited by Ford while in prison, he was mentally ill and thus, he could not be charged guilty by the appellate court. Mentally ill individuals are always unaware whether their actions are right or wrong, and this is an insinuation that Ford was not aware whether his act of killing someone was right or wrong. However, had he been mentally upright, the ruling would have taken a different direction. Based on various constitutions such as that of the US, individuals who are found to be mentally upright upon subjection to mental examination should be charged guilty of the offenses they commit (Cole & Smith, 2008).


Cole, G. F., & Smith, C. E. (2008). Criminal justice in America. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth.

Fersch, E. A. (2005). Thinking about the insanity defense: Answers to frequently asked questions with case examples. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.

Moriarty, J. (Ed.). (2014). The Insanity Defense: American Developments: The Role of Mental Illness in Criminal Trials. Routledge.

Peay, J. (2010). Mental health and crime. Routledge.

Scheb, J. M., & Scheb, J. M. I. I. (2011). Criminal Procedure. Sl: Wadsworth Pub Co.