Sentencing Reform Act
The Sentencing Reforms Act (SRA) was introduced in 1984, as a response measure to the disparities that existed in the judicial sentencing of the gender, race, and class sentencing. One of its main purposes is to deal with the discrepancies that exist in the judicial system, which is related to gender. The SRA focuses on ensuring that the jury verdict and subsequent sentencing is about the crime that has been committed as stipulated by the law. It ensures that there is fairness in the court of law and that every accused person in the court receives a fair trial. However, research indicates that women still receive lighter sentences than the men even after the enactment of the SRA. In a survey that was conducted in the judicial system, it found out that most of the judges are highly likely to provide male criminals with harsher sentences than women, even when they have committed crimes that exhibit the same nature regarding the acts that were involved (Kennedy, 2016). The reason for this is that the judges apply the blame factor in such cases, which is more applicable to men than it is for women.
Another reason that has been blamed on the disparity regarding the sentencing between males and females is due to the criminal records of the men and women. Women tend to have less previous records as compared to those of the men, and therefore, this plays a major role in terms of how the jury will view the accused, even in a situation where he will enter an insanity defense plea. If the accused has a record of violence or previous criminal offenses, then there is a high likelihood that he or she will be convicted of a crime.
The gender differences have also been used to explain the causal forces behind criminal behavior for both the males and females. Criminal experts state that in most cases when women are involved in a crime, there is a reason behind it. They usually blame the criminal behavior exhibited by women to psychological or biological disturbances that may occur. It then leads to the notion that women have less control of their actions, and therefore they cannot take the full blame for their criminal activities (Lee, 2013). This line of thought does not take into account the equal treatment of the judicial system whereby; both men and women should be subjected to the same laws in equal measures. On the other hand, when men commit violent crimes, it is regarded to be their nature, and if they decide to use the insanity defense plea, the court will subject them to psychiatric evaluations. This measure is taken for the defense to prove that he was not in his right state of mind when he committed the crime.
However, the gender biases also affect the females in some circumstances (various forms of crimes). One of the crimes that have particularly been noted to disadvantage women is infanticide. The cases of maternal infanticide have received more media attention than the paternal infanticide. For instance, in the case Andrea Yates, a devout Christian who lived in the suburbs of Houston, when she killed her five children by drowning them in a bathtub at the family’s residence, there were more than 1,150 articles that were written in the first four weeks of her trial period. On the other hand, in the case of Adair Garcia who committed paternal infanticide by poisoning his five children with carbon monoxide, only 77 articles were ever written about this case (Memon, 2006). The disparity exists because women are considered to have a maternal instinct that drives them to take care of their children, and raises them in the best possible manner that they can. If they behave in a manner in which it seems that they are hurting their children, it is considered to be deviant from their nature, and therefore it receives much more attention. These women are also more likely to receive stricter punishments than men who conduct similar crimes because of their deviant nature.
A person who has mental illness can be presented with various disadvantages in the criminal justice system, especially if he has not been diagnosed, or he does not know that he suffers from a certain mental condition. If the person is not aware of his mental illness, he may not be afforded special consideration during the interrogation process, and therefore, he may falsely confess to a crime that he did not commit. In his study, Richard et al. (2010) found out that the more symptomatic of a mental condition that an individual was during the interrogation process, the more likely the person will admit to a guilty plea. The reason for this is that; he may not understand the consequences of his actions; all he wants is the pressure from the interrogation to stop.
Additional problems that exist in such a situation is that the suspect may be unable to account for his whereabouts when the crime took place, or provide conflicting accounts to his whereabouts in the court. The prosecution may take advantage of this to prove that he is the perpetrator of the crime because he is lying to the court of his whereabouts, and therefore he is guilty of the crime that was committed (Memon, 2006). However, this may not be the case because; the defendant due to his unknown mental condition may not remember where he was or may not understand the consequences of his actions, and it can lead to wrongful conviction.
The media also provides an additional attention to crimes that are committed by mentally ill people than any other forms of crimes. The reason for this is that most of these media houses realize that more people will be interested in such news content than for the crimes that are committed by normal people (people who do not have mental conditions). The problem is that the publicity that such news content provides lead to the public believing that people with mental illnesses commit most of the felony cases (Memon, 2006). Therefore, they pressurize the legislative form of the government to come up with stricter laws to punish such offenders, as was the case after the John Hinckley case.
The insanity defense is deemed to be applicable in the court when the defendant has mental health problems that ensure that he or she cannot be held responsible for his or her actions during the criminal act. The mental health problems lead to the defendant being incapable of distinguishing right from wrong and is therefore considered be legally insane. If it is established that the defendant is legally insane, then the following verdicts are provided in the court, ‘not guilty because of insanity’ (NGRI) or ‘guilty but mentally ill.’ The defendant is normally placed in a psychiatric facility until a time when he or she will be considered to be mentally fit to co-exist with the other members of the society.
To ascertain that the defendant is legally insane, various tests have been used or are used in the court for determination purposes. These are the M’Nagthten test, Durham test, Irresistible impulse test and the Model Penal Code, popularly known as the ALI test standard. The Model Penal Code test is the one that is commonly used today in the court to determine the legal insanity of the defendant because it is more intuitive and recommends an expert opinion to ensure that its findings are definite.
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