irresistible impulse test | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

The irresistible impulse test is an insanity defense test that asks if the defendant could or could not control his or her actions.

The irresistible impulse test is an insanity defense test that originated in the late 1800s and has been used in various forms by some states in the United States. The test asks whether the defendant had the ability to control their actions when committing a crime due to a mental illness or defect. It is based on the idea that a person may be legally insane if they were unable to control their actions because of an irresistible impulse caused by their mental illness.

The test is often applied in cases where the defendant’s mental illness affects their ability to control their behavior or impulses, even if they understand that their actions are wrong. In these cases, the defense may argue that the defendant’s actions were beyond their control due to their mental illness and that they should not be held responsible for them.

The use of the irresistible impulse test has been controversial, and it has been criticized for being too subjective and open to interpretation. Some experts argue that the test is too lenient and allows too many defendants to escape responsibility for their actions, while others argue that it is too restrictive and does not take into account the complexity of mental illness.

In recent years, many states have abandoned the use of the irresistible impulse test in favor of other standards for insanity, such as the Model Penal Code’s substantial capacity test, which focuses on whether the defendant had the ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions or to conform their conduct to the requirements of the law.

Despite the controversy surrounding the irresistible impulse test, it has been used in several high-profile cases. For example, John Hinckley Jr., who attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981, was found not guilty by reason of insanity using the irresistible impulse test. Hinckley’s defense argued that his actions were a result of his mental illness and that he was unable to control his impulses.

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Last Modified: 04/10/2023


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