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How the Insanity Defense Works

insanityplea_180x120-150x119In a criminal trial, there are several different defense tactics. One very famous, controversial, but rarely used tactic is the insanity defense. The insanity defense is an excuse defense where a defendant argues that they were legally insane at the time the alleged crime was committed, and so should not be held criminally liable.

Generally, once a defendant pleads insanity, he or she will be required to submit to a mental examination. If the insanity defense is successful, the defendant is usually committed to a psychiatric hospital.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can either help you plead not guilty by reason of insanity or contribute your mental state to mitigating factors that can at least help lessen your charges.

The Law

According to the ‘Lectric Law Library, the legal definition of insanity is:

A person is insane, and is not responsible for criminal conduct if, at the time of such conduct, as a result of a severe mental disease or defect, he was unable to appreciate the nature and quality of the wrongfulness of his acts.

This is because willful intent is an essential part of most offense; and a person who is insane is not capable of forming such intent. Mental disease or defect does not otherwise constitute a defense; the person has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.

The History

The insanity defense was brought to light in 1843 by Daniel M’Naghten. Under the delusion he was being persecuted, M’Naghten attempted to assassinate British Prime Minister, Robert Peel, but in actuality killed his secretary, Edward Drummond. M’Naghten shocked the world when he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

The public outraged drove the English House of Lords to tighten the definition of insanity. The result is known as the M’Naghten Rule.

The M’Naghten Rule states: “Every man is presumed to be sane, and…that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of committing the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

Insanity Defense

If you have been charged with a crime, and you did not recognize the possibility that what you were doing was wrong, contact a criminal defense lawyer to see if an examination is possible. An experienced criminal defense lawyer can either help you plead not guilty by reason of insanity or contribute your mental state to mitigating factors that can at least help lessen your charges.

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