Some outlets have incorrectly described arguments about criminal insanity in the Anders Breivik trial as the "insanity defense." But a more accurate description might be the "insanity prosecution." What's the difference?
Usually, pleading insanity is a tactic used by the defense. According to Cornell University's Legal Information Institute, an insanity plea allows criminals to both admit to a crime, while also arguing that they're not really responsible for it because their mental illness made them do it.
But the court's recent decision to rule Anders Breivik as sane is confusing, because in this trial, it was the prosecution, not the defense, that was pushing for the insane label.
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As the Associated Press reported, prosecutors had been arguing that Breivik is insane and should be hospitalized. But Breivik, a staunch racist who recently apologized for not killing more than 77 people, was nonetheless kind of offended by that. In fact, he said that being ruled insane would be the worst thing that could happen to him ("worse than death"). He wanted his anti-Muslim views to be seen as legitimate and felt that prosecutors were trying to discredit him with the insane label.
"He has always seen himself as sane so he isn't surprised by the ruling," Breivik's defense lawyer told the AP.
Experts told the New York Times that this is the first case in Norway's legal history which featured this strange role reversal between the proseuction and the defense.
With this ruling, everybody wins, in a horrible and twisted way. Many Norwegians were uncomfortable with the idea of insanity, the Independent reported, because they were concerned that it would absolve Breivik of criminal responsibility. Now that the court has ruled him sane, Norwegians will be happy to see that Breivik is set to serve 21 years in prison. And Breivik, who made it clear that he also preferred jail time, gets to fullfill his fantasy of becoming a "political prisoner" and "champion of the far right."