Motus Animi in Mente Insana: An Emotion-Oriented Paradigm of Legal Insanity Informed by the Neuroscience of Moral Judgments and Decision-Making

Federica Coppola | January 1, 2019

Legal insanity is deeply rooted in an intellectualistic conception of the capacity for moral rationality. The vast majority of insanity standards essentially consider the integrity of the defendant’s cognitive faculties at the time of the offense. However, the cognitivist model of legal insanity collides with the body of neuroscientific and behavioral literature about the critical role of emotions in moral judgments and decision-making processes. Drawing upon this scientific knowledge, this Article reforms the intellectualistic substance of the capacity for moral rationality that underlies the insanity doctrine by including emotions in its relevant psychological set. Hence, it provides a revised model of legal insanity, one that gives more prominence to individuals’ emotional faculties in relation to the crime committed. The analysis highlights that the legal reconsideration of the role of emotions within the capacity for moral rationality turns the insanity defense into a tripartite, more dimensional test—one inclusive of emotional, cognitive, and volitional prongs. Normative arguments in support of the proposed alternative paradigm of legal insanity are illustrated and discussed.