Felo de se and temporary insanity
December 28, 2010 10:34 AM   Subscribe

In the United States in the 1870s and 1880s, what would have been the practical difference between a suicide being adjudged committed during a fit of temporary insanity, and having it be part, say, of a planned suicide pact?

I've been hunting this up with little success. In the 19th Century, it was common for coroner's juries to come in with a verdict of "temporary insanity" in almost all cases involving suicide. In Britain, until particular reforms were passed, this seems to have been designed to make sure people weren't classified as "felo de se" -- felons against themselves-- and therefore get around restrictions on the burial of suicides and forfeiture laws that would have claimed their property for the crown.

I can't find, however, that US law ever had forfeiture rules. So what is the purpose of ruling "temporary insanity"? Is it just to allow a religious burial? What would the difference in stigma be to the family?

I suppose I'm interested in Ohio law, if there are state differences.
posted by LucretiusJones to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you seen this article? State of mind of person committing suicide relevant to life insurance and medical malpractice claims.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:12 AM on December 28, 2010

Also relevant to veteran's benefits.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:16 AM on December 28, 2010

Also -- apparently suicide used to be a basis for voiding a gift made in contemplation of death, but the rule has changed over the years. See this article, which discusses the various rules over time, primarily using U.S. authorities. The last section describes whether suicide is a volitional/sane or non-volitional/insane, and how that impacts the legal analysis.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 4:34 PM on December 28, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you! Very helpful. I'm working on, of all things, an article on a ghost story where the findings of coroner's juries seem to play a very important role.
posted by LucretiusJones at 10:24 AM on December 29, 2010

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