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From a veteran federal judge, famed for his development of the insanity defense, a profound and disturbing examination of the relationship between morality and crime, crime and poverty/injustice, and society's gap between legal/moral principles and practice. In our moral tradition, the accused can be blamed (found guilty) only if the crime stemmed from free choice; the finding of ""not guilty by reason of insanity"" reflects that tradition. Today, however, there are increasingly strenuous efforts (from Congress on down) to curtail or abolish the insanity defense. Bazelon convincingly argues that these attacks are not on the defense itself, but on the principle that condemnation--and punishment--require a placing of blame that necessitates a consideration of the accused's life-history. Those who would abolish the insanity defense focus solely on the crime, claiming that inquiry into individual responsibility is counterproductive. Throughout, Bazelon shows the conflict between the ""law and order"" and the minority (his own) point-of-view, zeroing in on the tinkering with legal machinery (preventive detention, mandatory sentencing, etc.) beloved by law-and-order devotees, and taking to task particularly both attacks on the Miranda rule and the expensive, Draconian measures recommended in 1981 by the Attorney General's Task Force--to lock up violent offenders and to keep them locked up, which Bazelon sees as unworkable and a step towards a police state. Bazelon offers no easy answers here, but his passionate, provocative questioning of the moral and societal bases of crime and punishment should spark much-needed debate.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1987
Publisher: Knopf