insanity plea


: a plea in court of insanity as a reason or excuse for committing a crime
He murdered his wife and got off on an insanity plea.

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On the Meaning of Insanity

An oft-quoted bon mot (frequently attributed to Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, or a number of other people who probably never said it) is that insanity may be defined as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” While the job of lexicographers might be easier if they were allowed to use witty sayings instead of precise definitions, such belletristic labors are not within their purview. The straight facts about insanity are these: it has been in use in English since the late 16th century, for the first two hundred years or so carrying only the literal meaning “the condition of being mentally deranged.” In the 19th century it began to take on a looser sense, “extreme folly or unreasonableness.” In modern usage, insanity may be found in both senses: you may tell your brother that trying to skateboard while holding onto a car is "insanity" (in which case you mean that it is extremely foolish) or encounter the stricter original meaning in such contexts as insanity plea.

Examples of insanity plea in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Federal defense attorneys suggested Xiong would enter an insanity plea in the case at one point during the legal proceedings. Ishani Desai, Sacramento Bee, 18 June 2024 If found not guilty per her insanity plea, reports that the court would then determine if she should be sent to a mental health facility. Emily Palmer, Peoplemag, 4 June 2024 At one point during the legal proceedings that followed Xiong’s arrest, his federal defender suggested Xiong might enter an insanity plea in the case. Sam Stanton, Sacramento Bee, 29 Jan. 2024 Prosecutors have accepted the evaluation of a state psychiatrist that found Burnham was not criminally responsible, Maryland’s version of an insanity plea, a spokesperson for the Howard County State’s Attorney said Friday. Cassidy Jensen, Baltimore Sun, 24 Feb. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'insanity plea.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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Cite this Entry

“Insanity plea.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jul. 2024.

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