Use of insanity pleas to evade justice on the rise

Use of insanity pleas to evade justice on the rise


RIYADH — Several major studies conducted on people with mental illnesses have concluded that very few people with such illnesses go on to commit violent crimes. Yet, it is common in the Kingdom for people to claim mental illness after they commit a crime, usually as an excuse to avoid punishment.

In many cases, people who plan to commit a crime will visit a psychiatrist beforehand so such information is included in their medical file, information that is then introduced in court to gain a lighter sentencing.

To fight fraudulent mental illness claims, the Kingdom relies on experienced doctors in the field of forensic psychiatry to carry out accurate mental health evaluations and testify on a person’s mental health in court.

Speaking to Al-Riyadh daily, Abdullah Al-Waili, head of security in Al-Amal Complex for Mental Health in Riyadh, said the issue of claiming mental illness is not new to Saudi society. “Fraudulent mental illness claims are a real problem as people seek to avoid criminal liability and therefore escape a harsh sentence,» Al-Waili said.

“It is known as Munchausen’s syndrome or artificial anxiety. It is a psychological and behavioral condition in which the person with the disease manifests through certain symptoms. The patient plays a central role to attract the attention of others and the interest of the family or those close to him. Sometimes this illness is used to cheat the system to achieve legitimate objectives illegally. It can also be used to evade legal responsibility when a crime is committed,” he explained.

Asked whether the opinion of the Committee for Psychological Crimes, the main body tasked with determining a person’s mental competency, is binding or not, Al-Waili said from a legal standpoint, it is an advisory opinion for psychological counseling when requested by the competent authorities, in particular a court that has the right to approve the recommendations of the committee or reject them.

This is because such cases fall into two categories: patients who actually commit a criminal offense because of a mental illness and those who claim mental and psychological illness after committing a crime in order to evade punishment. With the former category, the Kingdom has laws that offer reduced to no jail time in exchange for mental health treatment at a hospital.

“Unfortunately, the number of cases where people fraudulently claim mental illnesses are increasing and this issue needs to be monitored and studied,” he said.