51 Pages Posted: 5 Mar 2014 Last revised: 20 Sep 2014
Date Written: September 18, 2014
The deific decree doctrine allows criminal defendants who believe that God commanded them to kill to plead not guilty by reason of insanity to murder. The insanity defense has remained moored to its Judeo-Christian roots, which has artificially limited its bounds. While civil law has focused on individualism within religion, criminal law has imposed state-defined limits on what religion (or socially acceptable religion) is. This Article argues that the deific decree doctrine is too closely tied to artificial limits on insanity imposed by 19th century developments in the mental health profession and criminal law. The doctrine unacceptably privileges certain mentally ill criminal defendants whose delusions fit within an outdated model that is not psychiatrically valid. Moreover, it has disparate gender consequences that harm women with postpartum psychosis who kill their children while supporting men who kill their female partners. The Article concludes by calling for the end of the deific decree doctrine and expanding the insanity defense so it more accurately tracks psychiatric understanding of mental illness.
Keywords: Criminal Law, Law and Psychiatry, Law and Religion, Gender and the Law, Legal History
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation
Belt, Rabia, When God Demands Blood: Unusual Minds and the Troubled Juridical Ties of Religion, Madness, and Culpability (September 18, 2014). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2403315 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2403315