THE LAW IS A ASS #323: Insane in the Bat Brain
Insanity, they say, is hereditary; you get it from your kids. Not me. My insanity comes from comic book stories. Comic book stories like Batman: The Dark Knight # 29.
This story featured as its bad guy one Abraham Langstrom. Unlike Tevya, Langstrom was a rich man. Not just the one percent rich, he was in the one percent of the one percent. He was so rich, he used 50 dollar bills to light 100 dollar bills then used them to light his cigars. He was also a self-styled corporate raider of such ferocity that even William Quantrill would have thought Langstrom gave raiders a bad name.
Langstrom considered himself an overlord, one of the ones who had to make tough choices to “ensure that the system runs smoothly for those who matter.” To Langstrom a poor or homeless man was, “a bum who bloodsucks valuable resources from contributing citizens, straining Gotham’s social services cashing another welfare check.” I’m guessing Langstrom wasn’t one of those “compassionate conservatives” you hear about.
Because Langstrom considered himself to be an overlord who had to make the tough choices, it shouldn’t surprise you that he made several. And because he’s a man named Langstrom in a Batman story, it shouldn’t surprise you that Abe’s son, Kirk, was the man who invented the Man-Bat serum. Nor should it surprise you that Not-So-Honest Abe’s tough choice involved said Man-Bat serum.
The tough choice that Abe made was to drink the Man-Bat serum and become a Man-Bat. Then he hunted down the homeless who took from his city without contributing to it, killed them, and sucked their blood. Yes, vampire imagery in a story about a ruthless one-percenter. The subtlety boggles the mind.
Because this is a Batman story, it should also not surprise you that Batman got on Abe’s trail. I mean, what kind of Batman story would it be if he never went after the bad guy? What might be a surprise to you, however, is that…
Batman caught him. Hey, nowadays so many of the comic book bad guys get away at the end of the story, telling you that Batman actually caught one is something of a spoiler. But Batman catching the villain wasn’t the end of the story. The ending was…
when the jury found Abraham Langstrom not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. Which is where my own insanity came into play. As in these things drive me crazy.
The doctor who taught my law school Law and Psychiatry course told us that there isn’t any such thing as temporary insanity. Temporary insanity argues that the defendant was insane at the time of the criminal act, but the insanity didn’t last and the defendant is feeling much better now. It’s argued in an attempt to have the defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity but avoid having him committed to an asylum afterward. The regular insanity verdict does the exact same thing. So, like landing gear on an ocean liner, a temporary insanity verdict isn’t necessary.
In the United States a defendant is found to be not guilty by reason of insanity – or NGRI, because only a crazy person wants to keep typing “not guilty by reason of insanity” over and over – when he commits a crime and, at the time of the criminal act, he had a mental defect or illness that so affected him that he did not know the wrongfulness of his act. (Yes, I know I’m using the dreaded universal masculine here. Are there any women out there who want to complain because I’m not calling them insane?) Anyway, insanity only concerns itself with the defendant’s mental condition at the time of the criminal act. It doesn’t concern itself with the defendant’s mental condition either before or after the crime.
Say a man has mental illness which gives him the delusion that another man is a Great White dropped out of the sky by a Sharknado, so kills him. He would be NGRI. He had a mental illness. His mental illness gave him a delusion and because of that delusion, he didn’t know the wrongfulness of his act. After all, it’s not against the law to defend oneself from a shark. It might also not be against the law to kill someone to prevent him from making Sharknado 3, but that’s another column for another time.
If the defendant was found NGRI, the judge can’t send the defendant to prison. Remember, the NG part of NGRI is “not guilty.” The defendant wasn’t convicted of the crime, so he can’t be sent to prison. That would violate the defendant’s Fourteenth Amendment not to be deprived of his liberty without due process of law. Instead, the judge will order that the defendant undergo treatment for his mental illness. And, because the defendant was not guilty, the treatment must be in the least restrictive environment consistent with the defendant’s treatment. Anything harsher would also violate the defendant’s aforementioned right to liberty.
So what happens after an NGRI verdict? The judge will order doctors to perform a mental evaluation of the defendant. If the doctors find he is still mentally ill, they will make a recommendation of what treatment is the least restrictive.
If the defendant is violent, the doctors will recommend the defendant be confined and treated in a high security asylum for the criminally insane such as Arkham. If the defendant is not violent, the doctors might recommend treatment in a less-restrictive mental health institution. And if the defendant’s mental illness can be controlled with treatment and medications so that he doesn’t manifest any further symptoms of the mental illness, the least restrictive environment would be supervised release with the condition that the defendant continue taking his medications.
Defendant’s who have been found NGRI are continually evaluated for their present mental condition. If the doctors ever determine that the defendant no longer has any mental illness, they will tell the judge that the least restrictive environment is outright release. If the judge agrees, the judge must order the defendant to be released. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, the defendant can only be confined in a mental health institution for as long as is required to restore his or her mental state. If he is cured, then he must be released.
So what would really have happened in Langstrom’s case is not a jury finding of temporary insanity. The jury would have found Langstrom NGRI. Doctors would have evaluated Langstrom. Those doctors would have determined that Langstrom had been insane because of the effects of the Man-Bat serum but now that it wasn’t in his system, he was no longer mentally ill. Then the judge would have ordered Langstrom released. See, the NGRI verdict does everything that a temporary insanity verdict could do. So the temporary insanity verdict is unnecessary.
On the other hand, maybe I should hope that there is such a thing as temporary insanity. After all, Batman wasn’t insane in his early days, but he sure acts like he is now. And the Batman fan in me has got to hope that the condition isn’t permanent.