Introduce the unit by clarifying what an insanity plea is
and how they work within the legal system. Stimulate student
interest by using the Anticipation
Guide before and during the reading.
The possible steps are to have students:
- make their individual predictions,
- meet in small groups to discuss their logic,
- silent read to seek evidence for their interpretations
from the article http://www.psych.org/public_info/insanity.cfm,
- meet back in their small groups to support or change their
- to discuss their findings in a large group or the entire
Next, provide students with the law as it currently reads.
"a variation of the 160-year-old
McNaughton rule from England. That law requires the defense
to proveby a preponderance of the evidencethat
a defendant, because of mental illness, either did not understand
what he or she was doing when a crime was committed or that
he or she did not know that the actions were wrong."
(Newsbank, "Insanity Defense, An Uphill Fight
by Patrick Pemberton).
Ask students these 3 questions to clarify their thoughts:
- If you were a defense lawyer, how might you prove that
your client did not understand that what he or she did was
a crime at the time or that he or she did not know that
the actions were wrong?
- If you were a prosecuting lawyer, how might you prove
that the accused did understand that what he or she did
was a crime at the time or that he or she did know that
the actions were wrong?
- In your opinion, is this a "good" law? Why?
Bring in 3 biographical facts related to the court case about
any of one the following people-
- SF Supervisor Dan White,
- John Hinckley,
- The Menendez Brothers, and
- Andrea Yates.
(Students should be encouraged to use Urban Dreams in-class
computers during lunch time or before or after school)
Set up a time line starting with
Students can use the Table of Insanity
Defense Trials to assist them in organizing facts regarding
these cases and others.
Use the two opinion articles on Andrea Yates
- by David Kopel http://www.nationalreview.com/kopel/kopelprint082801.html
- by Sherry F. Colb http://writ.news.findlaw.com/scripts/printer_friendly.pl?page=/colb/20020327.html.
Divide the class in two by giving the Kopel article to one-half
of the class and the Colb article to the other, explaining
to students that they will be counted on to discuss the important
parts of their article with another student. Then:
- have students read his/her article silently,
- pair a student that read the Kopel article with one that
read the Colb article and have each student explain what
his/her article was arguing,
- divide the class in half and have each side explain the
context of their article and what they agree and disagree
- and finally have students write a position paper in which
they agree or disagree with the 40 year sentence without
parole that Yates was given, explaining why they took that
point of view.
Use the Directed Reading
Guide to begin exploring information concerning schizophrenia
in the article, "A Troubled Mind
"A Trouble Mind, What its really like to live with
schizophrenia," by Nancy Shute). Use the information
that the students have gathered from the article and past
knowledge to develop a working definition of schizophrenia
and its symptoms.
Begin the movie, "A Beautiful Mind." Using
the Two-Column Note method, have students list the symptoms,
social ramifications, and possible dangerous actions that
John Nash displays. At critical points, the teacher should
stop the movie for discussion and ask questions dealing with
insanity pleas. For example, when Nash left his infant son
unattended in the bathtub, could he be charged with neglect
or even murder if the child had drowned? Would an insanity
plea serve as a reasonable defense?
Day Four, Day Five, and Day Six
Continue the movie and the same related-activities.
Mock Trial: the next exercise is designed to allow students
to experience the court room setting as well as a case in
which an insanity plea is used. Begin setting up for the mock
trial by viewing these sites as a guide to establishing procedures,
: Order of Events and http://www.judicial.state.ia.us/about/procdur/tiral.asp,
then click on About Our Courts and The Trial Process. http://www.judicial.state.ia.us/about/procedur/trial.asp
Read and discuss the Facts
concerning the case. Choose roles and advise the prosecuting
team and defense team to meet to set up their cases. Id
advise giving the students 2 days or the weekend to work on
their roles. This trial usually takes two to four days of
Homework: Write a prediction of what James life
will be like in five years. What do you think his life will
be like in 10 years? In 20 years?
Research Paper: Write a research paper on a famous insanity
defense trial. Recommend that students use a variety of sources
including the library and the internet. Ebsco, The Gale Group,
Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc are great sources and recommended.
As a final activity:
- individually retake the Anticipation
Guide, in order to note changes in student attitude
- have students meet in small groups to discuss changes
and the logic behind those changes,
- and lastly poll the class as a whole to determine what
statements received the most change and what statements
received the least change. Discuss as a class why and whether
the willingness to change ones attitude and opinion
is a positive or negative in our society.