lunacy


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insanity

insanity, mental disorder of such severity as to render its victim incapable of managing his affairs or of conforming to social standards. Today, the term insanity is used chiefly in criminal law, to denote mental aberrations or defects that may relieve a person from the legal consequences of his or her acts. The case of Daniel McNaughtan, who was found not guilty by reason of insanity after making an assassination attempt on British prime minister Robert Peel (1834), gave rise to the modern insanity defense used in many Western nations today. In the United States, the 1954 case of Durham v. the United States led to the establishment of new rules for testing defendants. Today, psychologists may perform tests to determine whether or not the defendant is mentally stable. Such tests try to ascertain whether or not a defendant can distinguish right from wrong, and whether or not he acted on an “irresistible impulse.” John Hinckley's assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan (1981) became another landmark in the history of the insanity defense. The court's initial verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity” generated public outcry and renewed interest in the verdict of “guilty but mentally ill,” which is permissible in some states. This verdict allows defendants deemed mentally ill to be hospitalized but requires them to carry out a reasonable prison sentence as well. In 1983, the Supreme Court ruled it permissable to keep a mentally ill defendant hospitalized for a term longer than the maximum sentence for the crime with which the defendant was charged. Many have contended that the insanity defense is nothing more than a legal loophole, allowing serious criminals to escape imprisonment. In fact, the plea is rarely employed in the United States, and it is estimated that less than 1% of defendants have used it successfully. Recent years have seen the restrictions surrounding insanity defense considerably narrowed, with the sole criteria for a successful plea being the determination of whether or not the defendant knew he was breaking the law.

Bibliography

See R. Simon and D. Aaronson, The Insanity Defense (1988); R. Porter, A Social History of Madness: The World Through the Eyes of the Insane (1989); S. N. Vinocour, Nobody's Child: A Tragedy, a Trial and a History of the Insanity Defense (2020).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Lunacy

 

an obsolete term for somnambulism, derived from ancient notions concerning the moon’s effect on the mind.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

lunacy

(formerly) any severe mental illness
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in classic literature ?
Result, three lunacy cases: Dartworthy selling out his mine for one-tenth its value; the poor woman sacrificing her respectability and sheltered nook in society to flee with him in an open boat down the Yukon; and Colonel Walthstone, breathing murder and destruction, taking out after them in another open boat.
"You talk of the lunacy of the Pyncheons; is it contagious?"
Two days have passed since that day of lunacy. What a noise and a fuss and a chattering and an uproar there was!
How should he but in desperate lunacy? Fond worldling, now his heart-blood dries with grief; His conscience kills it; and his labouring brain Begets a world of idle fantasies To over-reach the devil; but all in vain; His store of pleasures must be sauc'd with pain.
There was still further proof of Drowne's lunacy, if credit were due to the rumor that he had been seen kneeling at the feet of the oaken lady, and gazing with a lover's passionate ardor into the face that his own hands had created.
Besides, old Soap-Suds was sick enough at not getting his peerage last year; he'd sack me by wire if I lost him it with such lunacy as this.
This club has got me out of numerous shopping trips, allowed me to experience Saturday night Bristol in the heady disco days of the 80s, but perversely it gives me solidity from the lunacy of modern life, if only our own particular ordered, inevitable lunacy.
Pull back from brink of lunacy I'm afraid our country seems to have gone stark raving mad.
It is nothing short of lunacy on the part of the TMA.
And it just wouldn't be right to talk about our lunacy without giving just a brief nod to the lunacy across the Atlantic.
He even brazenly asserts that social justice policies are "lunacy." How can Williams, a man of color, dare to offend the legacies MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and all the other brave men and women who took to the streets, some giving their lives, seeking social justice in order to create more opportunities for people like him?
One wrote: "If this doesn't qualify for lefty lunacy..." Another agreed, adding: "Absolute lunacy.