Non compos mentis

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Non compos mentis is a Latin legal phrase that translates to "of unsound mind": nōn ("not") prefaces compos mentis, meaning "having control of one's mind", in the sense of not having contemplated its constitution beforehand. This phrase was first used in thirteenth-century English law to describe people afflicted by madness, the loss of memory or ability to reason. [1]

Contents

Usage

The status of non compos mentis applied to those who were not mad from birth, but became so later in life through no fault of their own. The property and interests of such a person could be committed to another party to conserve and administer them for the duration of their madness. Their criminal culpability was also limited except in cases of high treason. This contrasted with "natural fools" who were mad from birth and whose property interests passed to the crown, and habitual drunkards, who could claim no defense of madness. [2]

Prosecution of suicide

Non compos mentis and felo de se (the Latin word for "self-murder") presented two different verdicts in the case of a suicide. In the finding of a jury, the deceased who was stigmatized felo de se would be excluded from burial in consecrated ground and would forfeit their estate to the Crown, while these penalties would not apply to the deceased affirmed non compos mentis. [3] [4]

Suicide was a severe crime in Tudor and early Stuart England and was considered a form of murder; a sin not only in the eyes of the Church but also defined by criminal law. The state of mind of self-killers at the time they committed their fatal deed was crucial. To be judged guilty of "self-murder", one had to be sane. Men and women who killed themselves when they were mad or otherwise mentally incompetent were considered innocent. The verdict would be made by a jury. The penalty for suicide in England originated in the ancient world and evolved gradually into their early modern form; similar laws and customs existed in many parts of Europe. Born of domestic beliefs, the ritual of punishing suicide, which is usually concerned with the suicidal corpse, embodies the notion that suicide is polluting, and that the suicide should be ostracized by the community of the living and the dead. The theological and legal severity increased in the High Middle Ages. The medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas extended Augustine's arguments against suicide and added the new interpretation of "violation of natural law" to it. Most western European governments began to promulgate laws to confiscate some of a suicide's property. [5]

However, attitudes to suicide changed profoundly after 1660, following the English Revolution. After the civil war, political and social changes, judicial and ecclesiastical severity gave way to official leniency for most people who died by suicide. Non compos mentis verdicts increased greatly, and felo de se verdicts became as rare as non compos mentis had been two centuries earlier. [6] However, the laws against suicide and the verdicts felo de se and non compos mentis did not fade until the late nineteenth century.

Related Research Articles

Inquests in England and Wales are held into sudden or unexplained deaths and also into the circumstances of and discovery of a certain class of valuable artefacts known as "treasure trove". In England and Wales, inquests are the responsibility of a coroner, who operates under the jurisdiction of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. In some circumstances where an inquest cannot view or hear all the evidence, it may be suspended and a public inquiry held with the consent of the Home Secretary.

The insanity defense, also known as the mental disorder defense, is an affirmative defense by excuse in a criminal case, arguing that the defendant is not responsible for their actions due to an episodic or persistent psychiatric disease at the time of the criminal act. This is contrasted with an excuse of provocation, in which the defendant is responsible, but the responsibility is lessened due to a temporary mental state. It is also contrasted with a finding that a defendant cannot stand trial in a criminal case because a mental disease prevents them from effectively assisting counsel, from a civil finding in trusts and estates where a will is nullified because it was made when a mental disorder prevented a testator from recognizing the natural objects of their bounty, and from involuntary civil commitment to a mental institution, when anyone is found to be gravely disabled or to be a danger to themselves or to others.

Jury trial Type of legal trial

A jury trial, or trial by jury, is a lawful proceeding in which a jury makes a decision or findings of fact. It is distinguished from a bench trial in which a judge or panel of judges makes all decisions.

Lunatic Antiquated adjective epithet of one given to lunacy

Lunatic is an antiquated term referring to a person who is seen as mentally ill, dangerous, foolish, or crazy—conditions once attributed to "lunacy". The word derives from lunaticus meaning "of the moon" or "moonstruck".

Sanity refers to the soundness, rationality, and health of the human mind, as opposed to insanity. A person is sane if they are rational. In modern society, the term has become exclusively synonymous with compos mentis, in contrast with non compos mentis, or insanity, meaning troubled conscience. A sane mind is nowadays considered healthy both from its analytical - once called rational - and emotional aspects. According to the writer, G. K. Chesterton, sanity involves wholeness, whereas insanity implies narrowness and brokenness.

Jury Group of people to render a verdict in a court

A jury is a sworn body of people convened to render an impartial verdict officially submitted to them by a court, or to set a penalty or judgment. Juries developed in England during the Middle Ages, and are a hallmark of the Anglo common law legal system. They are still commonly used today in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries whose legal systems are descended from England's legal traditions.

Insanity Abnormal mental or behavioral patterns

Insanity, madness, and craziness are terms that describe a spectrum of individual and group behaviors that are characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity can be manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person or persons becoming a danger to themselves or to other people. Conceptually, mental insanity also is associated with the biological phenomenon of contagion as in the case of copycat suicides. In contemporary usage, the term insanity is an informal, un-scientific term denoting "mental instability"; thus, the term insanity defense is the legal definition of mental instability. In medicine, the general term psychosis is used to include the presence either of delusions or of hallucinations or both in a patient; and psychiatric illness is "psychopathology", not mental insanity.

Felo de se was a concept applied against the personal estates (assets) of adults who ended their own lives. Early English common law, among others, by this concept considered suicide a crime—a person found guilty of it, though dead, would ordinarily see penalties including forfeiture of property to the monarch and a shameful burial. Beginning in the seventeenth century precedent and coroners' custom gradually deemed suicide temporary insanity—court-pronounced conviction and penalty to heirs were gradually phased out.

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Suicide legislation

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Homicide Act 1957 United Kingdom legislation

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Murder is an offence under the common law of England and Wales. It is considered the most serious form of homicide, in which one person kills another with the intention to cause either death or serious injury unlawfully. The element of intentionality was originally termed malice aforethought, although it required neither malice nor premeditation. Baker, chapter 14 states that many killings done with a high degree of subjective recklessness were treated as murder from the 12th century right through until the 1974 decision in DPP v Hyam.

Criminal Lunatics Act 1800 United Kingdom legislation

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In English law, provocation was a mitigatory defence which had taken many guises over generations many of which had been strongly disapproved and modified. In closing decades, in widely upheld form, it amounted to proving a reasonable total loss of control as a response to another's objectively provocative conduct sufficient to convert what would otherwise have been murder into manslaughter. It does not apply to any other offence. It was abolished on 4 October 2010 by section 56(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, but thereby replaced by the superseding—and more precisely worded—loss of control.

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The open verdict is an option open to a coroner's jury at an inquest in the legal system of England and Wales. The verdict means the jury confirms the death is suspicious, but is unable to reach any other verdicts open to them. Mortality studies consider it likely that the majority of open verdicts are recorded in cases of suicide where the intent of the deceased could not be proved, although the verdict is recorded in many other circumstances.

This collection of lists of law topics collects the names of topics related to law. Everything related to law, even quite remotely, should be included on the alphabetical list, and on the appropriate topic lists. All links on topical lists should also appear in the main alphabetical listing. The process of creating lists is ongoing – these lists are neither complete nor up-to-date – if you see an article that should be listed but is not, please update the lists accordingly. You may also want to include Wikiproject Law talk page banners on the relevant pages.

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Hammersmith Ghost murder case

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John William Bean was a British criminal and mental patient. He was most known for attempting to assassinate Queen Victoria with a gun loaded with paper and tobacco. Born a dwarf with a hunchback, Bean shot at the Queen because he wanted to be transported to a penal colony as he was unhappy with his life in England. Instead he was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for misdemeanour assault. Bean died in 1882 after committing suicide.

References

  1. "Non Compos Mentis". Oxford English Dictionary. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  2. Byrdall, John (1635). Non compos mentis.
  3. Houston, Rab (2009). 'Medicalization of Suicide: Medicine and the Law in Scotland and England, circa 1750-1850' in Histories of suicide : international perspectives on self-destruction in the modern world. eds. John C. Weaver and David Wright. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 91-94
  4. Merrick, Jeffrey, ed. (2013). The history of suicide in England, 1650-1850, vol. 5. London: Pickering & Chatto. pp. xi.
  5. MacDonald, Michael; Murphy, Terency R. (1990). Sleepless Souls: Suicide in Early Modern England. Oxford: Oxford University press. pp. 15–18.
  6. MacDonald and Murphy, Sleepless Souls, pp. 109-110.