The Insanity Defense: What You Should Know
Recently, Batman shooter James Holmes has received a lot of attention in
the headlines. It is believed that the insanity defense will be presented
on his behalf in court. Jared Lee Loughner, the gunman behind the Tucson,
Arizona shooting, that injured former Representative Gabrielle Giffords
as well as several others, considered pleading "guilty by reason
of insanity" but ended up not employing this defense. It is not sure
whether or not a 17-year-old Texas boy will utilize the insanity defense.
The boy, who recently killed his mom and sister, called 911 afterwards
and told the operator, "It's weird. I wasn't even really
angry with them. It just kind of happened. I've been kind of planning
on killing for a while now." Criminal mental health issues are becoming
more prevalent in society.
The Journal of Psychiatric Practice wrote in an article in 2000, "A defendant must be found not guilty
by reason of insanity if, at the time of the alleged offense, and as a
result of a severe mental disease or defect, he did not know what he was
doing, or that what he was doing was wrong. For the purpose of this statute,
'mental disease or defect' does not include a condition for which
the only, or primary, manifestation is chronic antisocial or illegal behavior."
Conditions that Fall Under 'Mental Illness'
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), categorizes the following conditions
under the category of mental illnesses:
- Autism Spectrum Disorders
- Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Dissociative Disorders
- Dual Diagnosis and Integrated Treatment of Mental Illness and Substance
- Eating Disorders
- Major Depression
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Panic Disorder
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
- Schizoaffective Disorder
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- Tourette's Syndrome
- Generalized Anxiety
- Post Traumatic Stress
A mental disease or disorder constituting legal insanity does not include
"disorders that result from acute voluntary intoxication or withdrawal
from alcohol or drugs, character defects, psychosexual disorders or impulse
control disorders." It also does not include "momentary, temporary
conditions arising from the pressure of the circumstances, moral decadence,
depravity or passion growing out of anger, jealousy, revenge, hatred,
or other motives in a person who does not suffer from a mental disease."
NAMI's website for more information about any of these conditions. NAMI is a grassroots
organization of individuals and families whose lives are affected by mental
illness. You can also check out the
National Institute of Mental Health's website if you wish to learn more facts that could prove relevant to your case.
Competency to Stand
A criminal defendant must be competent to stand trial, or must understand
the proceedings against them and be able to assist with their defense.
A person can be found incompetent if he/she is diagnosed as being mentally
ill, senile or suffering from some other debility that does not allow
him/her to manage their own affairs.
When a person is found incompetent to stand trial, he/she is usually hospitalized
for treatment until they are competent to stand trial. 'Competency
to stand' does not have anything to do with guilt or innocence and
should not be confused with the insanity defense.
Burden of Proof
Since the passage of the Insanity Defense Reform Act, the burden of proof
lies on the defendant rather than the government. The defendant must provide
"clear and convincing" evidence that, due to a mental illness,
he/she did not mean to commit the act or did not realize that the criminal
act was wrong. A defendant can be found legally insane if he/she can prove that:
- They did not know that their actions were illegal
- They did not know they were committing the act
- They were forced to commit the offense by an irresistible force
Guilty Except Insane
The "Guilty except insane" verdict finds a mentally ill defendant
criminally liable but requires them to receive psychiatric treatment while
imprisoned or to be placed in a mental hospital before later being moved
to prison to carry out their sentence.
In 1994, the Arizona legislature altered its insanity defense, getting
rid of the M'Naughten standard. The new standard said that an individual
could plead "guilty except insane if at the time of the commission
of the criminal act the person was afflicted with a mental disease or
defect of such severity that the person did not know the criminal act
In deviation from the M'Naughten standard, in Arizona you cannot plead
"Not guilty by reason of insanity." Under
State v. Mott, the Arizona Supreme Court held that, "Arizona does not allow evidence
of a defendant's mental disorder short of insanity to negate the mens
rea elements of a crime." Mens rea simply means "guilty mind."
Mens rea is the mental element of an offense that accompanies the actus
reus (guilty act).
What happens after this plea is made?
After a defendant makes this plea, he/she is usually sent to a state mental
health facility, a county mental health evaluation and treatment facility
or another mental health facility for up to 30 days. Upon arrival, experts
will examine the defendant to see if he/she is truly insane. These individuals
are licensed specialists who are not only familiar with mental diseases,
but familiar with state insanity statutes. After the experts have examined
the defendant, they will submit a written evaluation to the court.
If the defendant is found "guilty except insane," the judge will
sentence the defendant to a term of prison in the state department of
corrections and will order that the defendant be placed under the jurisdiction
of the psychiatric security review board and committed to a state mental
health facility under the department of health services.
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What to Do When Concerned
Online Screening for Mood and Anxiety Disorders
Crisis Hotline Numbers