Coming up with an appropriate defense strategy for the criminal case against you will take consulting with your defense attorney and reviewing all available options. One potential defense could be pleading insanity. The insanity defense is uncommon, however, and may not result in the outcome you desire. Instead of dismissing the charges against you and letting you go free, you could face a lifetime in a mental institution.
What Is the Insanity Defense?
The insanity defense first set a precedent in the M’Naghten case, which involved the attempted murder of the British Prime Minister in 1843. Daniel M’Naghten shot a man named Edward Drummond, whom he believed to be the Prime Minister Robert Pell. Drummond died as a result, but M’Naghten pled not guilty by reason of insanity.
His lawyer argued that M’Naghten was not of sound mind at the time of the shooting, as he was delusional and thus could not exercise control over his actions. M’Naghten had committed the act because he believed the Prime Minister was conspiring against him, and he believed he was protecting himself. The jury found him not guilty.
Today, the insanity defense is a strategy in which the defendant admits to committing the crime, but claims the courts cannot hold him or her responsible because of a mental illness. The insanity defense involved pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. The basis of this defense is that certain mental issues can impede an individual’s ability to understand the consequences of an action, or to control his or her actions.
When and Why Would One Use the Insanity Defense?
The insanity defense is only appropriate under limited circumstances. A defense attorney may recommend using the insanity defense in Pennsylvania only if the defendant would qualify for such a defense. The defendant would need evidence of lack of mens rea, or the mental capacity to knowingly and intentionally commit a crime. This evidence could be in the form of witnesses, the defendant’s actions or words leading up to the crime, or experts on mental illnesses. The Pennsylvania courts may accept the insanity defense if the defendant passes one or more legal insanity tests.
- The M’Naghten Rule. Based on the infamous M’Naghten case. The defendant had a disease of the mind that rendered him or her incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, or unable to understand what the defendant did.
- The irresistible impulse test. The defendant could not control his or her impulses because of a mental illness, which led to the defendant committing the crime in question.
- The Durham rule. The defendant had a mental disease that resulted in him or her committing the crime at the time – regardless of the diagnosis. This rule does not require the defendant to have a medical diagnosis of a mental disease.
- Model Penal Code test. The defendant could not understand the nature of his or her crime, or was otherwise unable to abide by the law, due to a diagnosed mental defect.
These are the four main tests by which a court in Pennsylvania will determine whether a defendant has the right to use the insanity plea. A defense attorney can help a defendant determine his or her eligibility for this defense, as well as provide the necessary evidence to help prove insanity. For example, an attorney can hire a psychiatrist to evaluate the defendant and the crime, and testify on the defendant’s behalf.
What Happens After Using the Insanity Defense?
If the courts use one of the insanity tests on the defendant and the defendant passes, the jury may find the defendant not guilty. Yet this does not mean the defendant can return to normal life prior to the incident. Most states, including Pennsylvania, require mandatory institutionalization or mental health programs after a not guilty verdict because of the insanity plea. In some cases, this plea could result in the court confining the defendant longer than it would have without the insanity defense. Consult with an attorney of find out if the insanity defense is appropriate in your situation.