California law punishes those persons who intentionally commit crimes. This means that if, for example, a defendant accidentally breaks the law, is unconscious at the time he/she breaks the law, or was compelled to commit a crime because of severe mental illness, he/she will be excused from his/her criminal conduct.
This law, however, gets a little foggy when it comes to California’s insanity defense (otherwise known as the M’Naghten test). If you are declared not guilty by reason of insanity you will not be incarcerated. You will, however, be confined in a state mental hospital. And, depending on how you look at it, this type of involuntary confinement could be seen as a form of punishment.
This confinement could last as long as a jail or prison term…and could subject a patient to just as many restrictions and dangers as jail or prison. On the other hand, if treatment is truly the goal, there aren’t too many other viable choices. And when properly treated and attended to, patients will still fare better in a hospital than they will while incarcerated.
So what’s the answer? Strict enforcement to regulate the state’s mental institutions to ensure that the state is following through on its commitment to treat and rehabilitate rather than punish its offenders.