For Military Psych Boards, There Is (Almost) No Insanity Defense

Discussion in 'Americas' started by Oracle, Apr 5, 2012.

  1. Oracle

    Oracle New Member

    Mar 31, 2010
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    Bangalore, India

    Before he sets foot in a military courtroom to be tried on 17 counts of premeditated murder, Staff Sergeant Robert Bales will face a different kind of judgment. Called a sanity board hearing, it’s meant to decide whether Bales is mentally fit to stand before a jury, as well as what role (if any) his mental health played in his alleged massacre of Afghan civilians.

    It happens before the trial. But it might be just as complex, and controversial, as the courtroom proceedings themselves.

    Bales’ lawyer, John Henry Browne, announced late last week that U.S. Army prosecutors were moving ahead with a sanity board hearing. The process, exclusive to military legal cases, is designed to accomplish two things. The military’s Manual for Court Martial specifies that a sanity board is convened when there is “reason to believe that the accused lacked mental responsibility for any offense charged,” and also to determine whether the accused “lacks capacity to stand trial.”

    So what will Bales’ sanity board look like? According to experts who’ve participated in sanity boards, and lawyers whose clients have undergone them, Bales will be subjected to a range of psychiatric tests and interviews, designed to examine every aspect of his psyche. Furthermore, he’ll face an incredibly high bar: A sanity board finds fewer than 1 in 100 defendants unfit to stand trial, and fewer than 1 in 200 not responsible for their actions by reason of mental defect. A court-martial jury agrees with even fewer of those diagnoses — convicting defendants who’ve essentially been deemed insane (at least at the time of their alleged crimes) by sanity boards.

    The bar for insanity is so high, in fact, that at least one defense attorney (and one expert witness for the defense) expressed concerns to Danger Room that mentally ill suspects “are slipping through the cracks” of the military’s justice system. More specifically, they cite a tendency for sanity boards to convene before an adequate investigation of the alleged crimes has been completed — and rush through hearings without examining all of the evidence. Largely, these legal defenders speculate, the intent is to minimize focus on the failings of the military’s mental health system.

    The alleged actions of Staff Sergeant Bales strike many as inexplicable, irrational, and, maybe, downright crazy. His sanity board, odds suggest, will conclude something different. And assuming Bales’ lawyer is plotting to play the mental health card to keep him off death row, the track record of the military’s sanity boards is very bad news for both of them.

    Read more @ Wired

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