West Virginia Law Review

Document Type

Student Note


It is a matter of general knowledge that insanity is a defense to a criminal act. "A man's act does not make him guilty unless his mind also is guilty." No person can be criminally responsible for a crime unless he is sane at the time the offense is committed. In this discussion, the degree of criminal responsibility requisite to determine sanity, at the time of the alleged offense, is of prime importance. There are also certain safeguards in the law protecting the insane from trial and punishment, if insanity appears prior to trial or sentencing; although these phases of criminal irresponsibility are not reached in this note. The development of the American Law Institute's Model Penal Code test of determining criminal responsibility at the time of the alleged offense, as a product of existing tests, will be outlined in this article. The law and medicine have become so inextricably tangled that it is often erroneously supposed that insanity is a medical term. Although the exact legal meaning of insanity has not been authoritatively decided, the law does recognize that insanity is purely a legal concept. A fair explanation of the legal philosophy of insanity is the incapacity to entertain a criminal intent: one method of avoiding criminal responsibility. The philosophy of criminal responsibility has not changed nor is it suggested that it should change, but problems appear when translating the philosophy into practical rules for everyday courtroom use. No exact formula has been found for a realistic determination of criminal responsibility. Several tests have been accepted and applied by the courts and without exception each test has been roundly criticized.

Included in

Criminal Law Commons



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