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Policy Essay on the Insanity Defense

            On the day of October 19, 2005, 23-year-old Lashuan Harris took a train from Oakland into San Francisco with her three sons; 6-year-old Trayshawn Harris, 2-yar-old Taronta Greely Jr., and 6-month-old Joshua Greely. Once there, Harris treated her sons to hot dogs and walked along the Fisherman's Wharf, where she eventually stopped, undressed each of her three sons, and lowered them one-by-one into the cold San Francisco Bay. The mother of three was arrested just moments later as she pushed a stroller filled with babies' items, yet no babies, away from Pier 7 ("Insanity Defense Emerges" 1). She claimed that God had told her to sacrifice her children, and she believed that she had done a good act by killing them. Harris was charged on three counts of second-degree murder and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity ("Insanity Defense Emerges" 1). After a lengthy trial, San Francisco Superior Judge Kay Tsenin announced Ms. Harris not guilty by reason of insanity (Blanco). Tsenin used the following definition of legal insanity: "Harris was incapable of knowing or understanding the quality of her acts." The decision nullified the jury's guilty verdicts on three counts of second-degree murder and assault of a child under age 8 causing death, which would have resulted in at least 25 years in prison (Blanco). Due to her mental illness, she was sentenced to three concurrent 25-years-to-life terms for murder and three concurrent 15-years-to-life terms for the assault resulting in death of a child under age eight, and was to serve these terms at the Department of Mental Health at Napa State Hospital (People v. Harris).
             In cases dealing with the insanity defense, a very important aspect to consider is the defendant's competency to stand trial. Lashaun Harris was originally found incompetent to stand trial and was sent to San Francisco General Hospital following her arrest to be treated.

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