What Is the Insanity Defense?

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May 21, 2021

If you’ve watched courtroom dramas and cop television shows, you’ve likely heard of the insanity defense before. This type of defense is sometimes brought up as a joke, but the insanity defense is a very real thing that can be used when answering a charge in a criminal proceeding. Unfortunately, many people have the wrong idea about exactly what an insanity defense entails as well as how effective the plea is when entered into court.

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What is the Insanity Defense?

Pleading insanity in an Arizona court is a plea that admits the criminal action took place, but it argues that there is no culpability for the crime. Guilty, except insane, is a statement to the court that the defendant was not mentally sound in taking the criminal action and should therefore face no retribution.

Insanity Defense and Diminished Capacity

You may hear of someone claiming diminished capacity when defending against a criminal charge in court. This type of defense is related to an insanity plea, but the two are different. Claiming diminished capacity often lends itself to reduced charges, and an insanity defense is used to fully defend against a charge.

In other words, claiming diminished capacity may be used to justify parts of a criminal action to have them explained away. It is a defense where one is negating the mindset necessary to find one guilty as a crime.  An example of a diminished capacity plea may be where someone commits a crime while intoxicated. The defense may argue that, while the defendant did commit the crime, there was no intent. The crime, instead, was committed due to diminished mental capacity and would not have happened otherwise. The dismissal of intent can lead to reduced charges and a lighter sentence.

When claiming insanity, the defendant is saying that he or she may have taken the actions required to qualify event as a crime, but the person was unable to discern right from wrong at the time due to cognitive dysfunction related to mental illness. This is a way of excusing the criminal action because the defendant would have had no way to know a crime was taking place since he or she was mentally unsound at the time.

How Common is the Insanity Defense?

Despite its portrayal as common by Hollywood, an insanity defense is actually used very seldom. There are a number of reasons for this, but among the top reasons is that it can be difficult to prove in court. A defendant who pleads insanity must be evaluated by medical and psychiatric professionals, and forensic psychologists and other professionals in related fields may be involved as well. There may also be issues raised about witness credibility if those claims come under scrutiny and witnesses are called to testify on the defendant’s behalf.

Additionally, the defense will likely need to be able to demonstrate that the defendant did not have the mental capacity at the time the crime occurred to resist the urge to act. This last part becomes important in cases where a defendant claims that a higher power commanded an action be taken. The argument in such a case is that the defendant could not resist taking action because the defendant believed is was sanctioned and felt compelled the action. Once again, if challenged in court, this can become very difficult to prove.

How Often Does the Insanity Defense Prevail?

Because of the complexities involved in claiming insanity as a defense, these types of pleas are not successful very often. This is also another reason why they are not entered very often. It’s believed that only about 1% of cases will attempt an insanity defense, and out of that total, only about 25% are successful. Each case is unique, however, so these statistics should not have a bearing on the decision to enter an insanity plea if the defendant was actually mentally unwell at the time of a criminal action.

Contact an Attorney to Learn More

If you are in Arizona and feel that you or a loved one are in a position where mental health concerns have played a part in criminal charges you or they are facing, you’re highly encouraged to partner with Robert Dodell, a criminal defense attorney. A criminal attorney can discuss the specifics of your case, provide you with options that may include pleading guilty, except insane,  and provide legal representation in court on your behalf.

Robert A. Dodell, Attorney at Law, can also walk you through the steps required to prepare for your case and handle many interactions with law enforcement officials and medical professionals for you. To learn more, contact the Robert A. Dodell, Attorney at Law, by calling 480-860-4321.

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