Statement on Introducing Legislation For the Custody and Treatment of Persons Federally Acquitted on Insanity Grounds, Senate Floor

August 4, 1966


Washington, D.C.

All of the recent court rulings reflect a judgment that those whose crimes occur because of mental illness should be treated for their illness rather than punished for their conduct. Based on the application of modern psychiatry to the law, these decisions reflect a retreat from the archaic practice of just imprisoning the mentally ill, which was the effect of the M’Naghten Rules. But in the federal area, this change has occurred without accompanying assurances to the acquitted defendant that he will receive the medical attention he needs, and to the public that it will be protected from unwise release of dangerous individuals. Federal law—apart from a special provision applicable in the District of Columbia—contains no provision for the commitment and treatment of those acquitted on the same ground in their own courts. When the States have not done so, “not guilty on the ground of insanity” has turned out to be the same as “not guilty,” and the defendant has gone free without receiving treatment for illness. My bill would authorize commitment, and thereby provide the care and treatment that is the implied promise of an enlightened test of criminal responsibility. And in doing so it will provide a model code to guide any state which is considering action in this area.