I was reading this story in Slate magazine about faking insanity for the purposes of a trial. Most recently reported in the news, James Holmes went into a crowded theater in Colorado, and started shooting randomly at everyone. There has been some talk in the news about him pretending to be insane to escape the death penalty. I have a real problem with this, and I find it one of the most disturbing parts of our criminal justice system. I mean really, consider this: How could someone go into a crowded theater, shoot randomly to kill at everyone (not just shrieking children), and NOT be insane? What possible sane frame of mind could there be that would allow this type of behavior? I think we all know the answer to that: none. Yet we as a society have a problem. We have a collective emotional need to hold people (no matter how insane) responsible for their actions, and to mete out punishment or justice. The criminal justice system can work fairly well for petty crimes perhaps, such as thievery. But when it comes to extraordinary, random acts of murder, it becomes harder (to my mind) to accept anything other than insanity as the cause. That does not dispense with our duty to protect society, but it does have implications for how a trial is conducted, and how a perpetrator should be treated. If you can’t really hold someone responsible for their actions, you must at least put them in an institution for monitoring and (if at all possible) treatment. Our responsibility as a society is to prevent further harm to that society first and foremost, but we seem rather smitten with the idea of revenge instead.

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