The First Temporary Insanity Plea

Were you aware that the first time the temporary insanity plea was successfully used in a case was back in the 1800’s? It was 1859 to be exact, and it was used by Dan Sickles a congressman from New York. He was accused of killing his wife’s lover, Barton Key, who was son to Francis Scott Key, the author of “The Star Spangled Banner”. This case really does sound like something out of the movies. According to, “Sickles had married his wife in 1852, when he was 33 and she was 15, despite the objections of her family. Though it was apparently okay for him to have affairs, it was not okay for her to have one. Sickles grabbed three guns and set out to find Key, finding him right across from the White House, he shot and killed him”.

So, how did he get off with his temporary insanity you might be wondering? The website continues that, “although Sickles confessed to murder, he had been driven temporarily insane by his wife’s infidelity. The newspapers went further declaring that Sickles was actually “protecting” other innocent women from Key. The public agreed and lauded Sickles as a hero”. Not sure if this same sentiment would be felt today, but back in the 1800’s, it was enough to get Sickles off of his murder charge. You can read more about Dan Sickles here.

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