auditory or visual hallucinations which may order her to kill her children in order to save them and her family or prevent evil. This condition presents a true psychiatric emergency and immediate treatment is required to prevent possible tragedy.
Because psychotic hallucinations may consistently present and involve establishment of a plan eventually resulting in death of the infant, woman or both, it can be difficult for a considering jury to believe the mother is truly insane feeling that “insane people are not logical and could not execute a step by step plan”. Such misunderstanding of the course and content of psychotic illness fuels outrage sometimes resulting in jail terms equivalent to those meant for intentional murder or manslaughter.
One determination of psychosis may be a mother’s own response to troubling thoughts, feelings and urges. A woman with the more common postpartum depression, for example, may have thoughts of harming her baby, herself, wishing to give the baby up for adoption, or regret the baby’s birth, but she is deeply troubled and repulsed by these feelings and usually does not act on them. A woman with the extremely rare form of postpartum psychosis, however, believes these hallucinations are real, that following the commands may save herself and her child from perceived evil, and is therefore more likely to act on such thoughts. Medication can often stabilize pyschosis within days or weeks, ending the transient break from reality.
The bill for a sentence cap now proposed to the Texas legislature is not perfect. It would be preferable that psychological help and treatment be the primary “penalty” for the mother who creates a crime while suffering from the severe incapacitation of postpartum psychosis. But its submission to the Texas legislature marks a critical first step toward helping jurors acknowledge the reality, characteristics and attributions of postpartum psychosis and its role in establishing the degree of culpability for infanticide.