Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Imbecile Definition:

An individual with a lack of normal mental ability but not complete or absolute.

Related Terms: Mentally Ill

An imbecile was considered, in the law of lunacy, to be of greater mental abilities than an idiot.

In State v Haner, Justice Weaver of the Supreme Court of Iowa had before him a statute which referred to imbecility of mind:

"Imbecility of mind is (a term) hardly capable of exact or comprehensive definition. It is generally applied to a lack of normal mentality not so complete or absolute as exists in the condition we called idiocy but greater and more marked than in cases in which in normal parlance we apply the milder term feeble-mindedness."

In Francke, the Louisiana court wrote:

"The term idiot is applied to those who from original defect have never had mental power.  It is not a loss or perversion of what has once been acquired by a state in which, from the structure of the brain, the individual has never been able to acquire any degree of intellectual power.

"There is a state scarcely separate from idiocy in which the mind is capable of receiving some ideas and of profiting to a certain extent by instruction. Owing, however, either to original defect, or to one proceeding from arrested development of the brain, the minds of such persons are not capable of being brought to a healthy standard of intellect. This state is called imbecility."

In Delafield,  the New York court held:

"Imbecility  is that feebleness mind which, without depriving the person entirely of the use of his reason, leaves only the faculty of conceiving ideas the most common, in which relate almost always to his physical wants and habits."


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