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Daniel McNaughtan - A Downward Spiral

insanity defense drummond guilty

In the fall of 1842 McNaughtan booked passage to London on the steamship Fire King. He secured a room in a boardinghouse and for the next sixteen weeks acquainted himself with the public offices and residences around 10 Downing Street. For three weeks McNaughtan studied the daily habits of the man he thought to be the prime minister, Sir Robert Peel (1788–1850).

Insanity Defense


Under the U.S. Constitution, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty when charged with a crime. It is the duty of the prosecution to prove the accused is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal trials. Criminal prosecution in America allows for "justifications" or "excuses" for the defendant's crime.

A "justification" defense allows for the possibility that some situations require a person to choose between the lesser of two evils in deciding on an action. Self-defense is an example of justification. The degree and type of punishment is considered when there is a justification defense. Legal excuses, such as insanity, cover the other major type of criminal defense. If the accused is determined to be irresponsible, a successful defense in a court of law will receive a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity. The person will not be punished but will be committed to a secure mental health facility until it is determined he or she is no longer mentally ill or dangerous to society.

Most states use a form of the McNaughtan Rules to determine a person's legal responsibility for a crime. Some states have added additional elements and others have abolished the insanity defense entirely. John Hinckley (1955–) was acquitted of murder by reason of insanity when he made an assassination attempt on U.S. president Ronald Reagan (1911–2004; served 1981–89) in 1981. As a result, Congress enacted a stricter insanity test that is now used in all federal criminal prosecutions.

On Friday, January 20, 1843, McNaughtan followed Edward Drummond as he emerged from the public offices on Downing Street. Drummond was the private secretary to the prime minister and resembled Robert Peel in stature and age. The two men were often mistaken for one another by the public. They kept the same schedule and there was no pictorial press available for people to distinguish one from the other in the nineteenth A 1735 engraving by William Hogarth entitled Rake's Progress: Scene at Bedlam. Daniel McNaughtan occupied an eight-foot by ten-foot stone cell in Bedlam for twenty-one years. (© Burstein Collection/Corbis)
century. Drummond walked to his bank and was returning to Downing Street when McNaughtan drew a pistol from his pocket and shot him in the back. He was reaching for a second pistol when a policeman wrestled him to the ground. Drummond survived for four days before he died from his wounds.

McNaughtan was taken to the station house at Gardener's Lane where he was charged with attempted murder. Six weeks later, on March 3, 1843, the thirty-year-old McNaughtan stood trial for the willful murder of Edward Drummond. The courthouse was packed with curious observers, including author Charles Dickens (1812–1870; see entry). McNaughtan entered a plea of "not guilty," and the trial began.

The prosecution's case centered on the fact that McNaughtan had shot the wrong man, which showed evidence of his diminished mental capacity. The lead attorney then offered his observations on the law of insanity to the court. The defense acknowledged McNaughtan had shot Drummond and stated its case would rest upon his state of mind at the time McNaughtan committed the offense.

Seven medical examiners testified for the defense that McNaughtan showed signs of insanity. The judge stopped the trial based on the medical evidence and instructed the jury, who returned a verdict of not guilty on the ground of insanity in less than two minutes. On March 13 McNaughtan was escorted to London's Bethlem Hospital at Newgate Prison, known locally as Bedlam. McNaughtan occupied an eight-foot by ten-foot stone cell that would be his home for the next twenty-one years. In 1864 he was transferred to the new State Criminal Lunatic Asylum at Crowthorne in Berkshire. He died the next year after twenty-two years of confinement. He was buried on the asylum grounds in an unmarked grave.


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