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Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity-Andrea Yates

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Andrea Yates was born in 1964 and was the class valedictorian of the graduating class of 1982 from Milby High School in Houston. She was captain of the swim team and an officer in the National Honor Society. She had completed a two year pre-nursing program at the University of Houston and graduated in 1986 from the University of Texas School of Nursing. She worked as a registered nurse at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center for 8 years (about.com). She had 5 children; four boys and one girl (Montaldo 1).

One morning, Andrea filled the bathtub with water and for no reason she started drowning her children, one by one. After drowning the youngest boys, she placed them on her bed and covered them. She left the girl, Mary, floating in the bathtub. Her oldest boy, 7 year old Noah, was still alive. Noah saw Mary floating in the tub and asked his mother what was wrong with her. Andrea grabbed her son and put him in the bathtub next to his floating sister and drowned him (Montaldo 1).

During Andrea's confession, she tried to explain her actions by saying that she wasn't a good mother and that her children were not developing correctly and needed to be punished. Her attorney's never disputed the fact that she drowned all five of her children, but they claimed that she suffered from severe postpartum psychosis and was in a delusional state. She believed that Satan was inside her and she needed to save them from hell. The jury initially found Yates guilty of capital murder with a life sentence in prison. A Houston jury overturned this verdict and Yates was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity (Montaldo 1).

What does it mean for a defendant to be found criminally insane? One of the most controversial but least used criminal defense strategies is known as the "insanity defense." The insanity defense claims that the criminal defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity. The defendant, who is claiming to be insane, does not have the intent that was required to perform a criminal act because they are not capable of deciphering right from wrong. Insanity is hard to define, making this defense difficult to prove (enotes 1).

The insanity defense has existed since the twelfth century initially as a way for the defendant to receive a pardon or as a way to mitigate a sentence. In the nineteenth century, the insanity defense became known as the M'Naghten Rule (enotes3). The M'Naghten Rule states that "Every man is to be presumed to be sane, and ...that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, as not to know the nature and guilty of the act he was doing; or if he did not know he was doing what was wrong" (enotes 5).

Some have suggested that the definition of insanity should be expanded to include more than just the cognitive element, but it is very difficult to evaluate and determine if the defendants know that their acts are against the law and whether or not they are able to control their impulses. The first impulse test was adopted by the Alabama Supreme Court in the 1887 case of Parsons v State. The court found that even though the defendant could distinguish between right and wrong, he was under "duress of such mental disease that he had lost the power to choose between right and wrong" (Thomson Reuters 1). The court declared that the defendant had a mental illness even though he had the ability to distinguish right from wrong. Even though this judgment became accepted, some felt that it still left the definition of insanity to broad. It was believed



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