In Burlington County, it is alleged that a 22-year-old mother doused her newborn child in lighter fluid and set her on fire in the street. The child died as a result of the injuries inflicted.
No rational human being would argue that there was/is any justification for that kind of conduct. The act itself is incomprehensible. As you would expect, the mother has been charged with murder. Most people would say she was “insane”. Whether the law recognizes she was insane will depend upon a variety of factors.
Initially, her attorney will need to decide if it is a viable defense and will be pursued. In New Jersey, insanity is a defense which the charged person must affirmatively assert.
“A person is not criminally responsible for conduct if at the time of such conduct he was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing, or if he did know it, that he did not know what he was doing was wrong.”
In order to meet that standard, the charged individual has to be evaluated by trained mental health experts. If they are of the opinion that the charged person meets that standard, it can be pursued.
A verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity does not necessarily mean that the defendant will be freed, or that the individual will be indefinitely committed to a mental institution. Under New Jersey law, if the jury finds the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity, it will then be for the judge to conduct a further hearing and among other matters determine whether or not the defendant’s insanity continues to the present and whether defendant poses a danger to the community or to himself/herself.
The resolution of those issues will ultimately determine what appropriate restrictions need to be placed on the defendant. Thus, procedures exist to adequately provide for the defendant and to protect the public in the event defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity.
While we all might say that the mother had to be insane to commit such a horrendous act, only time will tell if the law reaches the same conclusion.
Thanks for reading and stay tuned every week for updates.