Duhaime's Law Dictionary

De Non Sane Memorie Definition:

Latin: of insane memory.

Related Terms: Insanity, Idiot, Non Compos Mentis, Lunatic

Ancient legal writers referred to the mind as memory; hence, the phrase de non sane memorie was eventually replaced with the phrase non compos mentis.

An article appearing in the Chicago Law Review proposed this background information:

"When it was desired to distinguish merely between the sane and the insane, and not between the lunatic and the idiot, a generic term covering both was used. In early texts the term de non sane memorie was common [Y.B. 8 Edw. II, 24 (1314); Cross v. Andrews, Cro. Eliz. 622 (K.B., 1598); see also statutes, I Rich. III, c. 7 (1483), and 23 Eliz., c. 3 (1581)]. Later on the term non compos mentis replaced this.

"We first noted this expression in the statute De Praerogativa Regis, c. 10. See the interesting entry in the Middlesex Sessions Rolls, 22 James I, entry of 29th July, 1625: "Anne Muskett late of the said parish spinster killed and murdered Clement Harrison, a girl of the age of 8 years by seizing the said Clement with both hands and throwing her in quoddam flumen vocatum the newe River. Acquitting her of murder, the jury found that she was a lunatic, and whilst non compos mentis had drowned the said Clement Harrison."

Edward Coke used the Latin phrase in his 1628 Institutes as follows:

"If a man commit treason or felony, and if after judgement he become de non sane memorie, he shall not be executed, for it cannot be an example to others."



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