Hypothtical Insanity Defense in the Case of Desiree Childers
Identify a recent, publicized case in which the insanity plea could be considered. Explain the legal guidelines that determine whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. For your selected case, what specifically qualifies the individual for an insanity plea? What role would forensic psychology play in this case?
- Madison woman charged in drowning death of baby daughter posts $500,000 bond, released from jail | A
Desiree Childers, 27, was released from the Madison County Jail, according to jail records. She'd been in jail since early September after being charged in the Aug. 30 death of her daughter Blakely Alexandria Fairburn.
Whitbourne, S., & Halgin, R. (2013). Abnormal psychology: clinical perspectives on psychological disorders (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
“The insanity defense is the argument a lawyer presents acting on behalf of the client that, because of the existence of a mental disorder, the client should not be held legally responsible for criminal actions” (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2013, p. 395). Before a case where the defendant may be mentally ill is tried in court the defendant’s competency to stand trial is assessed. When determining a person’s competency to stand trial, the person is tested to see if they are able to participate in their own defense. This testing is done by a forensic expert who evaluates “the defendant's cognitive capacity, emotional stamina and ongoing symptoms” (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2013, p. 400). A person “needs to be aware of and able to participate in criminal proceedings against him or her” (Halgin & Whitbourne, 2013, p. 400).
When looking for cases where the insanity plea could be used I decided to focus on the case of Desiree Childers. Desiree Childers was charged with the death of her baby, Blakely Alexandria Fairburn; the child’s father found the baby fully clothed floating in the bathtub. When questioned about her baby’s death, Desiree Childers gave multiple conflicting stories such as her female roommate had killed the child, Childers ran the tub to clean it, but didn't put the baby in it, and she kept saying the baby couldn't have climbed in the tub herself. If I was Desiree Childers’s therapist I would highlight the amount of distress Desiree was in. She had been having regular dreams of being locked up alone, forever in a dirty prison. Before coming home to her baby Desiree had been arrested for shoplifting cat items at Wal-Mart and caught in a Huntsville Police Department traffic stop. She also had ingested methadone that morning even thought she was being treated at a local methadone clinic. At the preliminary hearing Desiree was seen crying several times when reminded of the death of her baby. I would tell the court that Desiree likely had some sort of mental break evident by the way that she is unsure about whether it was her that killed her baby and her grief. I would also request forensic psychology to test Desiree to determine her competency to stand trial.