I have had many people write in and ask me the meaning of Jodi’s recent psychological evaluations. In essence they asked “if Jodi is found to be mentally ill, will she no longer have to go to prison and or avoid being executed?’
Some people believe that if a defense team proves that their client is mentally ill, then that client will get off Scott free. But is this true? Well it’s a legal question. When a federal crime is committed, then federal law applies and that is consistent across all of the states. When any other crime is committed, not a federal crime, then state laws apply.
The bad part is, every state has its own laws and thus an insanity defense must be different in each state. We need to generalize a bit because basically each state has similar laws, though with important distinctions.
As far as Jodi goes, she could not have found a worse state to have murdered Travis in. Arizona is the worst possible state for an insanity defense. It all gets horribly complicated but rest assured Jodi’s mental illness will not stop her from being punished to the fullest extent of the law. Crazy or not, Jodi very well could still be executed.
Now let me generalize a bit and talk about the insanity defense across all of the states. Having a mental illness never stopped anyone from being punished. You needed more than just a severe mental illness to avoid punishment. Basically, you needed two things to save you from being punished. If your mental condition did not allow you to know the difference between right and wrong, then you could get off in some ways. Second, if you knew the difference between right and wrong but could not stop yourself from doing wrong, then you could save yourself from being punished.
Being mentally ill, no matter how severe, is not in itself a defense that will save you from prosecution. Every state is different but similar. Let’s look at a metaphor that has been used over the years within the court system.
Would you have committed this crime if a “policeman were at your elbow?” The hardest part for most people is to accept the fact that mental illness in itself is not an excuse, ever, for committing a crime. Jodi has been diagnosed many times by many people. Once Dr. DeMarte gave Jodi the borderline personality diagnosis, it became the accepted diagnosis by the “experts” on TV. However, other professionals have given her other diagnoses. The range includes narcissistic PD, post-traumatic stress disorder, borderline PD and antisocial PD.
None of these are in themselves sufficient as a defense for Jodi’s criminal activities. In fact if she had all of these plus a little schizophrenia, it still would not be enough. And that’s where we get back to the “policeman at your elbow.” You could be crazy as a loon, howl at the moon every night and believe that ketchup is really a blood byproduct. In an attempt to counteract the rising price of ketchup, you might decide to go out in the evening, kill someone and drain their blood into empty ketchup bottles. Now that’s pretty crazy, no one could deny that. So you’re out there, on the dark street, have your victim lined up in your rifle sights, just about ready to pull the trigger and then a policeman walks up to you and stands beside you. You can’t help but notice him. If you put the gun down and sprint off into the darkness, you knew the difference between right and wrong and you had no irresistible impulse to pull the trigger, or if you did have and it was irresistible, you would’ve pulled the trigger because you couldn’t have resisted.
If however, you did pull the trigger with the cop standing beside you, you have an insanity defense that will work for you in most states. Now let’s jump back to the example of your putting the gun down and sprinting off into the night. Obviously, you didn’t commit the crime, however that’s not the point. The point is, when you do finally shoot someone, to stock up on ketchup because you’re crazy as a loon, and by luck there just happens to be no police officer at the scene, would you have shot the victim if a policeman were standing there?
That’s what the court will try to decide. Would you have committed the crime, if a policeman were standing at your elbow? If so, then you’re legally insane. If not, though severely mentally ill, you are not legally insane and thus would stand trial for murder.
The law is complicated. Go into any law library and you’ll see just how complicated it is. There is great weakness in the writing of the laws, most probably due to intellectual limitations of the individuals who write those laws. So the normal course of action, in dealing with weak, incomplete laws that don’t achieve the intention for which they were written are supplemented with new laws. The old laws should be rewritten but it is a cumbersome process, so instead new laws are added to help achieve the purpose of the original law.
You probably have heard many times the expression “it’s not the letter of the law but the intent of the law.” That little expression proves my point perfectly. The intention of the law should be achieved by the words of the law but it isn’t. So additional laws are tacked on and the size of the law library grows exponentially.
It used to be true that the difference between a good law firm and a poor law firm was the size of its legal library. Not always of course, but better law firms had better libraries and thus had an advantage over smaller law firms. With the advent of computers, this advantage has been equalized. You can no longer judge the law firm by the size of its library.
I hope I haven’t made this overly complicated. In essence I try to give you “the intent of the law and not the letter” of the insanity defense. Jodi is guilty of first-degree murder. Nothing will change that. If her recent psychological evaluation said that she was unfit to stand trial, it would only mean a delay in the next stage of the trial. As soon as she was deemed fit, the trial would continue.
Jodi cannot escape the reality she has created.