Insanity is a term of art in the legal world. As everyday citizens, we all have certain ideas of what insanity means. We have all seen people in our lives affected my psychiatric disorders, some much more than others. Some of these individuals are able to control their conditions with medications or other forms of therapy; others are not.
But when the criminal justice system comes into play, sanity can take on a whole new meaning. In fact, there is a very specific legal definition of what it means to be insane. Under Florida law, a person is considered to be legally insane when he had a mental disease and because of this condition, he didn’t know what he was doing or its consequences, or although knowing what he was doing, he didn’t know it was wrong.
In the case of hallucinations, a person is considered legally insane when a person has a mental disease and because of the disease, he has hallucinations or delusions that made him honestly believe things that weren’t true or real. So if a person is hallucinating and actually believes he’s under attack from someone and he defends himself, even though it was just a hallucination and not really happening, the person is not guilty of the crime.
Regardless of the legal definitions, there will always be certain crimes that will make us wonder if a person can ever commit that particular crime and actually be sane. Take for instance the very recent example involving cannibalism. Occurring right here in South Florida, a Miami man was shot and killed by police when he was found naked in broad daylight eating the face of a homeless man. Dubbed the “Miami Zombie”, Rudy Eugene allegedly attacked the homeless man at the MacArthur Causeway off ramp in Miami Beach. Experts are now questioning what drugs Eugene may have been on at the time. According to mental health experts, an act of cannibalism is extremely rare and it usually involves severe perversion or mental illness. Experts also noted some additional oddities in the case: that Eugene was naked at the time, that the attack occurred in broad daylight, and that it was in a very public place. Toxicology test are currently pending to determine if Eugene was on any illegal substances or hallucinogens at the time of the attack.
Another equally disturbing incident was the case of Otty Sanchez, a 33-year-old Texas woman who decapitated and cannibalized her 3 ½ week old baby before stabbing herself twice in 2009. Sanchez reportedly ate the child’s brain and three of his toes before being found. Sanchez told authorities that the devil made her do it. Sanchez was later diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, and she had been treated for schizophrenia for years. Sanchez was examined by three doctors who each determined she was insane at the time of the crime. Although they initially sought the death penalty, prosecutors eventually agreed to allow Sanchez to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Last summer, she was sent to a Texas state mental hospital to be committed until the court decides she is no longer a danger to herself or others.
Such extremely violent and horrific crimes automatically seem to beg the question of whether or not the perpetrator could actually be sane. Due to the fact that Rudy Eugene was shot and killed by police, we will never find out whether the court system would have actually concluded that he too was insane at the time of the crime. But legal definitions aside, as a regular human being, we have to conclude that he wasn’t sane because none of us wants to think that a sane person could do something so horrific.