Can You Plead Insanity if You Commit a Crime and Have Mental Health Issues?

For many years, Hollywood and the likes have glamorized the insanity defense on television and in the movies. Using such a defense is not always as clear-cut as depicted on the big screen.  The same question remains, is it a plausible defense? How severe do a person’s mental health issues need to be in order to access this type of defense? To be eligible for this, the criminal defense attorney must be able to prove that their client was incapable of telling the difference between right and wrong.

What is the Insanity Defense?

The insanity defense is a type of strategy an attorney may use in a criminal case to defend someone’s behavior when they have committed a crime. All states allow for the insanity defense with the exception of a few: Utah, Kansas, Montana and Idaho. If a person is found to be legally insane at the time the crime was committed, they may be able to receive a sentence that is not as harsh as they may have otherwise received. There are many considerations that must be taken into account when an attorney is determining if this is the appropriate defense. When successful, the defendant is often not convicted of the crime.

Mental Health Diagnoses

There are a few diagnoses that a person may have who enter an insanity plea. The diagnosis must be one that impairs the person’s judgment or gives them an alternate view of reality. Examples of this are:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Traumatic Brain Injury
  • Depression
  • Psychoses

M’Naghten Rule/Right-Wrong Test

The M’Naghten is one of four types of insanity defenses that can be used by an attorney and the most commonly used around the country.  Also known as the Right-Wrong Test, the M’Naghten Test looks at two principles to determine if the defendant knew that the crime they were committing was wrong when they carried it out. The first principle operates under the assumption that the accused is considered sane unless the criminal attorney is able to prove otherwise. An attorney may use the testimony of expert witnesses, such as a medical professional, to carry this out. If the defense can prove that the defendant had a mental disease that impaired their ability to make a reasonable decision, a not guilty verdict may be probable. The second principle looks at whether or not the person knew that the crime they were committing was wrong. If deemed “insane,” it may be determined that they did not understand that the act they were carrying out was wrong.  If one or both can be proven in court, it is plausible that the insanity defense may be successful.

An experienced criminal defense attorney  such as the Criminal Defense Lawyer DC locals turn to will be required in determining whether or not the legal insanity defense is the right strategy when going to trial. Their involvement will be vital as the laws can be different depending on the state where the crime was committed.

A special thanks to our authors at Brynn Law for their insight into Criminal Defense Law.

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