Frontline A Crime of Insanity Documentary Essay Reaction

Criminal Justice

Frontline A Crime of Insanity: Documentary Review Prompt Reaction essays must be well-written, well-reasoned argument papers that explore one or more issues raised in the documentary. Reaction essays are NOT “What was this film about” or “What I thought of the film.” Please do not provide any summary of the film’s content unless you are […]

A Reaction on “Frontline A Crime of Insanity”

A good documentary enables the viewer to vividly see the filmmaker’s ideologies through their own eyes. “Frontline A Crime of Insanity,” has this quality. The documentary follows the struggles, crime, and sentencing of a paranoid schizophrenic man named Ralph Tortorici. The filmmaker explores Tortorici’s trial and immerses the audience in his life, allowing the audience to understand the struggles of the various players better. One of the major themes in “Frontline A Crime of Insanity” is the prosecutor’s (Cheryl Coleman) dilemma regarding the conviction of Tortorici. Coleman is torn between seeking justice for the victims of the accused’s classroom hostage by winning the case or admitting that Tortorici’s paranoid schizophrenia makes him unfit to stand trial. “Frontline A Crime of Insanity” shows the prominence of the prosecutor’s dilemma in the proceedings and how the incentives faced by prosecutors can sometimes infringe on the defendants’ rights.

The prosecutor’s predicament mirrors a common struggle that many professionals face in their careers as they contemplate whether to advance themselves at the expense of others. On the one hand, a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation deemed Tortorici unfit to stand trial. Coleman was aware of Tortorici’s severe mental problems as she had commissioned and reviewed multiple psychiatric assessments of Tortorici before his sentencing. All of the psychiatrists Coleman had consulted concluded that it was impossible to convict Tortorici due to his mental illness. At a glance, it seems clear that Coleman thus should not have pursued the case as she did.

On the other hand, Coleman was presented with the biggest challenge of her life: “an unwinnable case,” according to psychiatric evaluation experts. The prosecutor was also up against an equally competent lawyer who had previously dealt with her long enough to understand her methods. A win for Coleman would consolidate her fame as a prosecutor in dealing with the insanity defense making the case a a career-defining chance. However, the choice to take that chance raises the question of whether the prosecutor was “doing justice,” even if she was doing her job.

The prosecutor found herself torn between protecting society and the defendant’s rights. Either option would lead to undesirable consequences. If Coleman chose to send the accused to a mental institution, the victims’ family might have felt that the punishment did not fit the crime. It could have been seen as a soft-on-crime choice, hurting Coleman’s standing in her field. Similarly, Tortorici’s incarceration would not have been the best way to shape his future behaviors as his paranoid schizophrenia limited his blameworthiness and the practical implications of “doing time.” Choosing the suitable rehabilitation method for an offender reduces the rehabilitation cost while deterring them from committing crimes in the future. In other words, this choice was not merely academic; it had severe implications for the defendant and the victims.

Coleman chose to address the dilemma by proceeding with the trial, prioritizing her career and the victims over the defendant. The first hurdle determining whether the case would continue involved the suspect’s ability to stand trial. The prosecutor exploited a loosely defined word, competency, to show that Tortorici fit the category, as any person rational enough to differentiate between a judge and a grapefruit was eligible for trial (Murdock et al.). Coleman erred in taking the word competency to include a mentally-ill suspect. Providing suitable rehabilitation methods for the accused is an essential element of criminal justice. By exploiting this legal definition, Coleman failed to fulfill this duty.

Coleman’s approach to handling the prosecutor’s dilemma led to the prosecution complex, wherein she concentrated all her efforts on winning the case rather than protecting Tortorici’s rights. The jury selection and the offender’s conviction exemplified her prosecution complex. During the jury selection, the prosecutor and defense attorney knows the power of choosing the right jury members and prioritize choosing candidates likely to be easily influenced to their side. Once the jury is selected, the prosecutor and defense attorney uses the courtroom as the stage in which they sell their most precious commodity, believability, to the jury. Coleman used demonstrative, testimonial, and circumstantial evidence effectively while discrediting the defense’s psychiatric witnesses so that they seemed undependable in accurately evaluating the accused’s condition. The prosecution complex developed by Coleman early in the case contributed significantly towards the dedication she put into the trial, leading the jury to conclude that Tortorici was guilty. Ultimately, Coleman’s investment in the case caused her to become lost in the adversarial nature of the trial, more focused on winning the case than doing justice.

“Frontline A Crime of Insanity” is not only reflective but gives the viewer some crucial lessons in practical courtroom procedures. The documentary vividly represents Tortorici’s court case and demonstrates how the prosecutor’s dilemma affects everyday court proceedings. The film’s in-depth analysis makes it relevant for criminal justice students wishing to understand how a prosecutor’s competing incentives can shape the system.


Work Cited

Frontline A Crime of Insanity. Directed by David Murdock, Miri Navasky, and Karen O’Connor, Frontline, 2017.

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Published On: 01-01-1970

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