LUNACY. Unsoundness of mind is perhaps the most accurate definition of the present legal meaning of lunacy. For merly a legal distinction was made between lunatics and idiots : a lunatic was de scribed as one who has had understanding, but from some cause has lost the use of his reason ; and an idiot, as one who has had no understanding from his nativity. The distinction between these two classes of persons of unsound mind also produced some important differences in the manage ment of their property which have now fallen into disuse. Strictly speaking, perhaps a lunatic is one who has lucid intervals, but this distinction may also at the present day be disregarded.
Persons of unsound mind may inherit or succeed to land or personal property either by representation, devise, or be quest, but they cannot be executors or ad ministrators, or make a will, or bind themselves by contract. It is stated by Blackstone that the conveyances and pur chases of persons of unsound mind are voidable, but not actually void ; this how ever perhaps needs some qualification, for a bargain and sale, or surrender, &c., and also personal contracts made or en tered into by such persons, are actually void as against their heirs or other repre sentatives, though it is true a feoffment with livery of seisin was voidable only. A person of unsound mind, though he afterwards be restored to reason, is not permitted to allege his own insanity is order to make his own act void ; for no man is allowed to plead his own disability (13 Vesey, 590), unless he has been im posed upon in consequence of his mental incapacity (2 Carr. & P. 178 ; 3 Carr. & P. 1, 30); and an action will lie against a lunatic upon his contract for necessaries suitable to his station. The reader is re ferred for information upon this subiect to 1 Blackst. Cows., 291; 1 Fonbl. Eq., b. 1, c. 2 ; 2 Sugden, Pow., 295-6 ; 5 Barn. & C. 170; Moody & M. 105. 6. Acts done during a lucid interval are valid, but the burthen of proving that at the time when the act was done the party was sane and conscious of his proceedings, lies upon the person asserting this fact. The marriage of a person of unsound mind, except it be solemnized during a lucid interval, is void.
The degree of responsibility under which persons of unsound mind are placed with respect to crimes committed by them, as well as the degree of unsound ness of mind which should be considered as depriving the party of that amount of self-control which constitutes him a re sponsible agent, are in a state of uncer tainty. As a general rule it may how
ever be laid down that where unsound ness of mind, t f such a nature as to render the party incompetent to exercise any self-control, is established, criminal punishment will not he inflicted ; but that he will be kept in safe custody during the pleasure of the crown (39 & 40 Geo. III., c. 94, and I & 2 Viet., c. 14). On the subject of criminal responsibility, and what constitutes unsoundness of mind in a legal point of view, the reader is re ferred to the various treatises on medical jurisprudence, particularly to that by Dr. Ray, lately published at Boston in the United States: and also generally to Dr. Haslam's 'Observations on Madness and Melancholy,' Medical Jurisprudence as it relates to Insanity," Illustrations of Madness,' and his other works. Dr. Forbes Winslow on The Plea of In sanity in Criminal Cases' is a valuable book.
In an inquisition of lunacy the ques tion to be decided is not whether the individual be actually of sound mind, though a jury on an inquisition held under a commission of lunacy must ex press their opinion or finding in the form that the alleged lunatic is of "unsound mind" (In re Holmes, l Russell, 182); but though such must be the finding in order to make a man legally a lunatic, the real question is whether or not the departure from the state of sanity be of such a nature as to justify the confine ment of the individual, and the imposi tion of restraint upon him as regards the disposal of his property. No general rule can be laid down by which to ensure a right decision : but in all such inquiries it should be kept in mind that insanity varies infinitely in its forms and degrees. Persons may be of weak mind, and ec centric, and even be the subjects of de lusions on certain subjects, and yet both inoffensive and capable of managing pecuniary matters. The individual's na tural character should be taken into con sideration as accounting for eccentricities of manner and temper, and his education in estimating his ignorance and apparent want of intellect; and lastly, due allow ance must be made for the irritation and excitement produced in a mind, perhaps naturally weak, by the inquiry itself, and the attempt to deprive him of his liberty and the management of his property.