The “insanity” defense is widely used in TV dramas and is popular among court cases shown in local and national news. While it seems like a quick way to get away with a crime, claiming insanity as a defense is much more complex – and unrealistic – than people realize.
One accused of a crime may acknowledge that he committed the crime, but argues that he is not responsible for doing so because of a mental illness. In these cases, he is pleading “not guilty by reason of insanity.”
Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity and Diminished Capacity
While the defense is based on a person’s diminished capacity, this is not the same as “reason of insanity.” Both will assess the overall competency of the defendant, but there are key differences that must be noted if you plan to use such defense in your own case.
The biggest difference is that the “reason of insanity” defense is a full defense. In other words, you are pleading not guilty because you lacked the mental capacity to understand your actions or realize what you were doing was wrong. Diminished capacity is not a full defense. Instead, you are pleading guilty, but to a lesser crime, because of your diminished mental capacity.
The History of Such Defense
This defense is not new – in fact, it has been around for some time. Society has mixed feelings on the insanity defense; in the legal field, it has been an ongoing topic of debate. On one hand, many feel that criminals should be punished for their crimes, but not when they need treatment. On the other hand, many also feel that, just because some criminals need treatment, this should not necessarily mean that they can get away with their actions without punishment. Instead, it is preferred that they receive treatment and be held accountable for their crimes.
The M’Naghten Rule
A legal test for insanity was devised in 1843 in the M’Naghten case. When the defendant used the insanity defense and was acquitted, the Queen of England demanded that a stricter set of rules be used to decide if a defendant was truly insane at the time when the crime was committed.
This standard is now used by jurors across the country. They will hear medical testimony regarding the defendant’s state of mind and, unless otherwise convinced that the defendant truly suffered from a mental condition or illness, the defendant will be found sane.
Insanity Defenses Do Not Mean You Go Free
Even if one is acquitted of a crime for insanity, that person is not necessarily freed. Instead, one will be institutionalized until the facility feels that the defendant is no longer suffering from mental illness, or a threat to society. Some individuals could spend the rest of their lives in a mental health facility receiving treatment.
It is Best to Devise a Defense Strategy with an Attorney
You will need to discuss your own defense strategy with a criminal attorney. Even if you feel that you had diminished capacity or a mental illness, your attorney will help you decide if that is the right strategy to use in your own defense. Contact the Law Office of Timothy Armstrong, P.A. today regarding your case. We’re available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week at 904-356-8618 or via our online contact form.