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June 8, 1984

Reform Not Abolition

Author Affiliations

President American Bar Association; Chairperson American Bar Association Standing Committee on Association Standards for Criminal Justice
From the American Bar Association, Washington, DC.

JAMA. 1984;251(22):2947-2948. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340460025018

AT ITS meeting in December 1983, the American Medical Association's House of Delegates endorsed a policy recommending the abolition of the special defense of insanity and providing instead that new procedures should allow acquittal only when a defendant, as a result of mental disease or defect, lacked the state of mind required as an element of the offense charged. This policy, derived principally from the writings of Professor Norval Morris, is commonly referred to as the mens rea limitation. It is not a new idea and, while it has been adopted by the states of Montana, Idaho, and Utah, it has been rejected by Congress,1 by the American Bar Association (ABA),2 by the American Psychiatric Association,3 and by the National Mental Health Association.4 Still, there is a certain intellectual attractiveness as well as a logical clarity to the idea, and therefore its rejection deserves and requires explanation.