Although excusing the violence of Yates and Hinckley may seem wrong, the insanity defense is actually tailored to such situations. The concept of criminal “guilt” refers to more than whether a defendant committed the crime; in almost all states, it also requires that the person be deemed of sound mind when the act was performed. And although many believe the plea dumps dangerous felons back on the streets, in fact attorneys attempt the defense only rarely and typically fail in the attempt. Even when the defense succeeds, the acquitted usually end up with sentences similar to or longer than those for convictions. The main difference between an acquittal and conviction: those acquitted on the basis of insanity are usually sent to psychiatric hospitals rather than prisons.

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