Mounting an Insanity Defense: Victory Won’t Feel Like a Win
Violent crimes often conjure images of evil villains; insane perpetrators who couldn’t possibly have been in their right minds at the time they committed their atrocities. Other crimes seem too innocuous and strange for anyone but the mentally unstable to have committed them. The scarier truth is that usually these men and women were very much in charge of their faculties when they murdered their spouses, swung the car around for a victory lap. Of course, their mental state may come up at trial when their defense attorneys attempt to mount an insanity defense. Difficult to prove in today’s world of skeptical juries, the challenge defense attorneys in Bucks County and the rest of the country face isn’t passing off the sane as whacked out, but painting a real picture of their client’s mental state at the time of their alleged crimes.
The Burden of Proof
In all criminal proceedings, the prosecution has the burden of proof. There are exceptions, but we’ll get to that in a minute. All defendants have the presumption of innocence, though that never stopped the media from developing their own “opinions” and tainting potential jury pools.
The burden of proof means the state has the task of proving to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crimes for which they’ve been indicted. In the case of trials for murder, defense counsel may attempt to assert a plea of insanity to cast reasonable doubt on their client’s ability to know what they were doing was illegal or likely to result in death or serious harm. A plea of insanity makes a relatively simple claim: the defendant wasn’t mentally capable of having “malice aforethought,” and could not form the intention necessary to constitute criminal guilt.
Defining Insanity and Hinckley Defense
John Hinckley attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1984 as a means to garner the favor and attention of actress Jodie Foster. Following a criminal trial and successful insanity defense, federal legislators voted to tighten the standards requiring “clear and convincing” evidence of insanity for defendants to claim it as a legitimate defense in court. These newer standards also required compelling proof that the defendants did not have an understanding of the wrongness of their actions at the time of their offenses. In this sense, the burden of proof somewhat rests on the defendants in cases of insanity.
Proving Insanity with Convincing and Clear Evidence
Convincing both a judge and a jury of a defendant’s inability to distinguish right from wrong at the time of a violent, illegal act is extremely difficult. Contrary to what you might see on TV, defendants rarely go free or get to bide their time in a mental institution because of a successful plea of “temporary insanity.” To prove the infirmness of a defendant, their legal team requires expert testimony from a variety of a psychologists and psychiatrists who’ve interviewed the accused and performed batteries of tests on them. They’ll also need to arm themselves with testimony from the defendant’s friends, close relatives, and any information contained in journals or online outlets, including social media or digital diaries.
The defense team wants to establish that their client’s condition was pervasive and affected daily life in very basic ways right down to the person’s ability to make basic decisions.
A Win is Still a Loss
A lengthy stay in an institution for the criminally insane isn’t a de facto day spa or an insignificant punishment. Those who are legitimately insane require round the clock care and professional counseling to recover even a small portion of their cognitive function. If medication shows to improve their condition, they might even risk further penalties in criminal court for their previous offenses.
An arrest is the darkest time in your life filled with uncertainty and one scary revelation after the other. You need experienced Philadelphia criminal defense lawyers on your side to head off the prosecution’s bail denial tactics and hardball strategies. If you’re facing criminal charges, call us today for immediate help.