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ART. I.-INSANITY PRODUCED BY INTEMPERANCE.
THE subject of medical jurisprudence has not, until within a few years, received the attention to which it is entitled as a branch of legal study. Previous to Dr. Beck's 'Elements of Medical Jurisprudence,' there was no systematic work in our language, which could be recommended to the student at law as containing a clear and comprehensive view of what has been well defined 'the science which applies the principles and practice of the different branches of medicine to the elucidation of doubtful questions in courts of justice.' In most cases where knowledge of this kind is to be applied, great reliance is placed upon the opinions of medical men, whose information and experience best enable them to form a correct judgment. But as these opinions are to be drawn from them upon their examination as witnesses, it must be admitted that some acquaintance with this science is necessary to enable the court to estimate the extent of the witness's knowledge, to weigh the force of his evidence, and to judge of the correctness of his conclusions. It is indeed essential to the right administration of justice in criminal cases. In questions of homicide, for instance, a little experience in courts of justice will show how requisite it is for the jurist to have some acquaintance with the nature of diseases, the effects of violence upon the human system, and the vast variety of causes which produce death. What is an adequate cause of death? did it happen in the course of nature, or by accident? was it occasioned by violence or hastened by cruel treatment? are often material points of inquiry. In questions of insanity, which form a most im
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portant class, how indispensible it is to become acquainted with the variety of cases in which the mysterious operations of this subtile disease have been traced; to ascertain the various forms in which it appears; to know how difficult it sometimes is to detect its secret influence, and the impossibility of finding out in what it consists, so as to define it with certainty; to be able to distinguish between a feigned insanity and that which is real; between that which is the effect of irregular habits and voluntary indulgence, and that which is secretly lurking about and may be considered as inherent in the constitution. A full collection of the cases which have been judicially decided, methodically arranged and classified under proper heads, with a summary of the evidence, elucidated by the results of medical observation and experience, together with a clear exposition of the principles of law as applied to each particular case, is a work yet wanting.
No principle in criminal law is more universally admitted than that the insane man is not responsible for his acts; that guilt does not attach to the individual who is unconscious of his deeds; that it is the criminal mind, the wicked intent, which makes him the subject of punishment. And yet this principle must be received with some qualification. Voluntary insanity, brought on by indulgence and excess, is no excuse for crime. A homicide, committed in the phrensy of intoxication, subjects the offender to punishment. And here insanity and its cause must not be confounded. The law discriminates between the delirium of intoxication and the insanity which it sometimes produces. While the drunkenness continues, the person under its influence is responsible as a moral agent, though reason in the meantime has lost her dominion; but when the intoxication ceases, if insanity immediately follow as a consequence of the vice, he is, in the eye of criminal justice, no longer amenable for his acts. This legal distinction in the criminality of acts in relation to insanity and its causes, is exemplified in cases of delirium tremens, a species of madness which often deprives the sufferer of the power of distinguishing between right and wrong, and which medical writers attribute to frequent intoxication, or the sudden cessation from habitual drinking, or to the combined effect of both upon the system. But, however just the distinction, it does not appear to have been judicially settled before the decision of Justices Story and Davis, in a late case, which it is the design of these few preliminary remarks to introduce.
At the May Term, A. D. 1828, of the Circuit Court of the United States, Alexander Drew, commander of the whaling ship John Jay, was indicted and tried for the murder of his second mate, Charles F. Clark, while upon the high seas. It appeared in evidence that previously to the voyage, during which the fatal act took place, Drew had sustained a fair character, and was much respected in the town of Nantucket, where he belonged. It was proved that he was a man of humane and benevolent disposition, but that for several months he had been addicted to the use of ardent spirits, and for weeks during the voyage had drunk to excess; that he made a resolution to reform, and suddenly abstaining from drinking, he was seized with the delirium tremens, and that while under the influence of the disease he made an attack upon Clark, and gave him the stab of which he afterwards died.
The first witness who testified in the case was George Galloway, the cooper on board the ship. He stated that he joined the ship in the Pacific Ocean; that he found Capt. Drew to be an amiable man, kind to his crew and attentive to his business, but that he often indulged to excess in spirituous liquors. During the latter part of August, 1827, he had been in the habit of drinking very freely; that they spoke a ship from which Capt. Drew obtained a keg of liquor, and after he returned to his own vessel he drunk until he became stupified; that soon after he recovered a little from his intoxication, and ordered the keg with its contents to be thrown overboard, and it was accordingly done. There being now no more liquor on board of the ship, and none to be procured, Capt. Drew, in two or three days, discovered signs of derangement. He could not sleep, had no appetite, thought the crew had conspired to kill him, expressed great fears of an Indian who belonged to the ship, called him by name when he was not present, begged he would not kill him, saying to himself he would not drink any more rum. Sometimes he would sing obscene songs and sometimes hymns, would be found alternately praying and swearing. In the night of the 31st of August, Drew came on deck and attempted to jump overboard, and when the witness caught hold of him he sunk down trembling, and appeared to be very weak. His appearance the next morning the witness described to be that of a foolish person. At seven o'clock in the morning of the first of September, the witness, Capt. Drew, Clark, and others, were at breakfast in
the cabin, when Drew suddenly left the table and appeared to conceal something under his jacket which was on the transom in another part of the cabin. He immediately turned round to Mr. Clark and requested him to go upon deck; the reply of Clark was, When I have done my breakfast, sir.' Drew said 'Go upon deck, or I will help you,' and immediately took from the transom a knife which had been covered over by his jacket, and before another word was spoken by either, he stabbed Clark in the right side of his breast. Clark was rising from his chair at the time the knife struck him, and immediately fell upon the floor. He afterwards rose up and went upon deck alone. As the witness left the cabin, Drew cocked his pistol, pointed it at him, and snapped it, but it missed fire. Capt. Drew followed them upon deck, and addressing the chief mate, said Mr. Coffin, in twenty-four hours from this, the ship shall go ashore.' He was then seized, bound hand and foot, and a guard was stationed over him. His whole demeanor, for some time after, was that of an insane person. He would frequently call upon persons who were not on board, and who never had connexion with the ship. Some weeks after, when Drew first appeared to be in his right mind, he was informed of the death of Clark and its cause, he replied that he knew nothing about it, that when he awoke he found himself handcuffed, and that it all appeared to him like a dream. There had not been for months any quarrel or high words between Clark and Capt. Drew.
The second witness was Moses Coffin, the first mate of the ship. Coffin stated that Capt. Drew had been in the habit of drinking, and that it was by the order of Drew that the keg of spirits was thrown overboard. He recounted numerous instances in addition to those before stated, of frivolous complaints made by Drew, of his countermanding his orders, of his fear of being left alone, and his conversation with imaginary beings by whom he supposed himself surrounded, all going to prove physical weakness and alienation of mind. Though familiar with his habits, the witness had not, before this affair, supposed him insane. With regard to Clark, the witness dressed his wound and took care of him. Two physicians at a Spanish port, which they reached soon after, gave it as their opinion that it was not dangerous, and that it would be well in a few days; but Clark himself had said, in describing his complaint to witness, that the wound caused an internal flow of blood. It healed externally before Clark expired.
At this stage of the proceeding, the Court asked the District Attorney if he expected to change the posture of the case. He admitted that unless upon the facts stated, the court were of opinion that this insanity, brought on by the antecedent drunkenness, constituted no defence for the act, he could not. expect success in the prosecution. After some consultation, the opinion of the court was delivered as follows:
STORY, J. We are of opinion that the indictment upon these admitted facts cannot be maintained. The prisoner was unquestionably insane at the time of committing the offence. And the question made at the bar is, whether insanity whose remote cause is habitual drunkenness, is or is not an excuse in a court of law for a homicide committed by the party, while so insane, but not at the time intoxicated or under the influence of liquor. We are clearly of opinion that insanity is a competent excuse in such a case. In general, insanity is an excuse for the commission of any crime, because the party has not the possession of his reason, which includes responsibility. An exception is when the crime is committed by a party while in a fit of intoxication, the law not permitting a man to avail himself of the excuse of his own gross sin and misconduct to shelter himself from the legal consequences of such crime. But the crime must take place and be the immediate result of the fit of intoxication, and while it lasts, and not as in this case a remote consequence, superinduced by the antecedent exhaustion of the party, arising from gross and habitual drunkenness. However criminal, in a moral point of view, such an indulgence is, and however justly a party may be responsible for his acts arising from it to Almighty God, human tribunals are generally restricted from punishing them, since they are not the acts of a reasonable being. Had the crime been committed while Drew was in a fit of intoxication he would have been liable to be convicted of murder. As he was not then intoxicated, but merely insane from an abstinence from liquor, he cannot be pronounced guilty of the offence. The law looks to the immediate and not to the remote cause, to the actual state of the party, and not to the cause which remotely produced it. Many species of insanity arise remotely from what, in a moral view, is a criminal neglect or fault of the party, as from religious melancholy, undue exposure, extravagant pride, ambition, &c. &c., yet such insanity has always been deemed a sufficient excuse for any crime done under its influence.