PANEL: Mind in the Dock: Responsibility in Nineteenth-Century English Law
Saturday, October 20, 2000, 10:30-noon
Chair: Susanna Blumenthal
University of Michigan Law School
Crime and Culpability: Victorian Approaches to Criminal Agency
Although it has become conventional to group all forms of mental aberration under the heading of insanity, there existed in the last century a form of derangement that left the intellects very much intact. Known conventionally as 'moral insanity,' forms of mental distraction grouped under this heading challenged not only mens rea but actus rea: the actual doing of the crime. Voluntariness itself was on trial, whether the defendant was a sleepwalker, a juvenile poisoner whose knowledge of right and wrong "failed to restrain" his hand, or an attempted murderer whose sudden delirious rantings during his Prisoner's Defense suggested at least one 'alter personality' hidden within.
This paper explores the extent to which moral insanity questioned the retention of voluntary action by examining the unmotivated crime: crimes that "only a madman would do." Although it was clear to the jury who committed the physical act, it was not at all clear who committed the crime.
Making Medicine Legal: Credibility and Display in the Nineteenth-Century English Courtroom
It is the issues of credibility and evidence and the theater of display that I will explore in my talk. I will focus upon the ways in which the medical jurisprudence of idiocy and lunacy in early nineteenth-century England had as one of its central concerns the presentation of bodies-understood in the broadest sense to encompass a person's physical presence, comportment, and range of activities and attributes-and that this included both the representation of the subjects of the judicial inquiries and the medical experts themselves. My contention will be that, at least within the confines of legal proceedings, medical practitioners sought to engage in a double act of bodily fashioning. On the one hand, they had to comport themselves in such a manner as to enhance the credibility of their testimony. They had, in other words, to be seen as truth-telling beings. On the other hand, they had to manipulate their evidence, including particularly either the narrative histories or the actual behaviors of the subject of the inquest, in order to display publicly the individual's alleged soundness or unsoundness of mind. What is more, they had to do this in such a way that the mental state itself did not seem manufactured as the product of their own labors. They had to reveal the condition without in any way seeming to create it. It is within this context that terms such as idiocy, imbecility, lunacy, insanity, and unsoundness of mind took on concrete meaning as medico-juridical categories.
Comment: Dana Rabin
(University of Illinois)
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