Insanity as a Defense

January 22, 1964

Report Outline
Insanity Defense in Ruby Murder Trail
Legal Tests of Insanity in Crime Cases
Basic Differences Over Insanity Defense

Insanity Defense in Ruby Murder Trail

The Murder Trial of Jack Ruby (born Rubenstein), scheduled to open in Dallas on Feb. 3, will focus world attention on a continuing debate among lawyers and psychiatrists over the merits of various legal formulas on the use of insanity as a defense against criminal charges. Ruby's lawyers have announced that the defendant, accused of killing Lee Harvey Oswald, alleged assassin of President Kennedy, will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. The insanity plea is familiar in cases where there is incontrovertible proof that the accused committed the murder of which he is charged. There is strong likelihood that if Oswald had lived and had confessed that he killed the President, a like plea would have been entered by the lawyers undertaking his defense.

Courts in all Anglo-American jurisdictions have long recognized the principle that an individual who commits a crime as a result of mental illness or mental deficiency is not responsible for his actions and should not be punished for the offense. But the insanity plea raises many other questions on which no consensus has been reached after centuries of learned argument. The chief of these questions involves the tests to be applied in attempting to convince a judge or jury that the mental condition of the accused at the time of the crime was or was not such as to relieve him of responsibility for the act.

Events in Dallas Leading to Arrest of Ruby

The tragic sequence of events which now gives special prominence to insanity as a criminal defense began on Nov. 22 when President Kennedy, riding in an open car in Dallas, Texas, was struck in the shoulder and then in the back of the head by bullets fired from a sniper's rifle. Rushed to a hospital, the President was soon declared dead of bullet wounds.

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