Not Guilty By Reason of the Matrix?

by Sean Carter

In the beginning of the original Matrix movie, Keanu Reeve's character (Neo) is given one last chance to back out before being shown the Matrix. "This is your last chance. After this, there is no going back. You take the blue pill; the story ends. You wake up in your bed and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland; and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."

I want to offer you the same option. You can put down this article now and continue on with your belief about our "wonderful" legal system. Or you can continue reading and see just how deep the loopholes go.

In our criminal system, defendants can use a number of loopholes to avoid a conviction - entrapment, intoxication, the abuse excuse, etc. However, perhaps the most infamous of all loopholes is the insanity defense. And until recently, the granddaddy of them all was John Hinckley's successful "Jody Foster" defense in his trial for the attempted assassination of President Reagan.

However, recently, an even more remarkable insanity defense has surfaced - the Matrix defense. Incredibly, criminal defendants are claiming that they are caught up in the Matrix and jurors are buying it.

Earlier this month, an Ohio woman, Tonda Lynn Ansley, was found not guilty by reason of insanity in her trial for shooting her landlord several times in the head. At trial, Ansley claimed that she thought her landlady was part of a conspiracy to brainwash and kill her.

Unfortunately, this verdict is not an isolated incident. Last September, a San Francisco man, Vadim Mieseges, successfully argued that being caught in the Matrix made him chop up his landlady.

As a result of this early success, other criminal defendants are playing the "Matrix card." Next month, Joshua Cooke, a Virginia man, will use the Matrix defense in his trial for murdering his parents. In fact, it's even rumored that Washington, D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo may attempt the Matrix defense. Reportedly, Malvo has been writing the words, "Free yourself of the Matrix" in his jailhouse sketches.

Of course, I should point out that most juries see through insanity defenses as if they were Halle Berry's 2002 Oscar dress. In fact, as a whole, insanity defenses are likely to be as unsuccessful as my sister's next boyfriend. However, as demonstrated by the Ansley and Mieseges cases, the insanity defense is sometimes successful.

And this isn't just because most juries have the collective I.Q. of the Dixie Chicks. The sad truth is that many insanity defenses have a valid basis in the law, even the Matrix defense.

In most states, a defendant is legally insane if he suffers from a mental disease that prevents him from being able to tell right from wrong. Historically, legal insanity was difficult to prove unless you were truly crazy, like my in-laws and you people who voted for Ruben as the American Idol (you know Clay did a better job in the finals).

However, this is no longer the case. Given the current thinking of the American psychiatric community, every American suffers from some form of mental disease. Therefore, using the insanity defense has become easier than sleeping with Anna Nicole Smith; just not as expensive.

Likewise, the second part of the test (that the defendant couldn't tell right from wrong) is equally easy to satisfy. The sad truth is that very few Americans can distinguish good from bad. If we could, then there wouldn't be so much gang violence, teen pregnancy and rap music.

In fact, given these facts, I think it's time to radically change the definition of legal insanity. The new standard should be a two-part test.

The first part would require the defendant to be "really crazy" in order to use the insanity defense. To establish "real craziness," expert opinions would no longer be admissible. After all, if paid enough, an expert will say anything; except "I waive my fee in this case." Instead, to prove insanity, the defendant would have to produce testimony from his grandmother and at least one uncle saying, "That boy has never been quite right."

The second prong of my new insanity test is that, even if insane, the defendant must have acted reasonably relative to his insanity. In other words, the defendant's crime must be the logical result of his insanity.

For instance, let's take the case of Tonda Ansley, the Ohio woman who thought her landlady was trying to brainwash and kill her. Under my test, the question would be whether Ansley "had" to shoot her landlady in the head because of this crazy belief. The answer in this case is obviously "No." After all, she could have just moved into another apartment complex instead.

The purpose of the insanity defense is to allow for alternative punishment for those whose insanity drove them to commit crimes that they would not have otherwise committed. However, nowadays, the defense is being used as a loophole for anyone with an active imagination and a Blockbuster Video rental card.

Now, perhaps my solution isn't the best answer but in the immortal words of Trinity from the original Matrix. "The truth is out there, Neo. It's looking for you and it will find you, if you want it to." The same thing applies to our legal system. Now, if you will excuse me, it's time for me to take the blue pill.

Sean Carter is a lawyer, public speaker, and the author of "If It Does Not Fit, Must You Acquit? - Your Humorous Guide to the Law". He can be reached at