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Published in: Newport, (1979), Vol. 2 issue 2.


In 1834 Major Mitchell, a nine year old boy from Durham, Maine, was arrested and brought to trial for assault and battery on a schoolmate. His attorney, John Neal, offered an unusual defense which argued that due to an injury to Major’s phrenological faculty of “destructiveness” occurring in his infancy that he should not be held responsible for his crime. Although Major was found guilty and imprisoned, the defense was one of the earliest examples of what today would be called an insanity defense, a stratagem which strives to free a defendant of criminal responsibility due to mental defect or disease.

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