The Insanity Defense: Here’s What You Need to Know

If a defendant is determined to be legally insane, he/she can use an insanity defense to avoid legal responsibility for a crime.

Understanding the Insanity Defense

Among criminal defense strategies, the insanity defense is controversial and often unsuccessful because it is difficult to prove. When a person is determined to be legally insane, it must be proven according to the legal definition of insanity based on state statutes, and states use different standards. Most states determine legal insanity and a defendant’s guilt based on the defendant’s ability to exhibit free will to commit a crime with the intent to cause harm.

Proving legal insanity in a criminal case requires an abundance of reliable evidence, including evaluation by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and his/her professional testimony during a trial. An assessment of a defendant’s mental status is essential to prove the defendant’s level of mental deficiency or impairment. In criminal cases, especially those that involve the death of another person, it’s important to determine if the defendant had the capacity to know right from wrong based on rational thought processes. When establishing an insanity defense, a criminal defense attorney Minneapolis often relies on the defendant’s past history of psychiatric counseling or treatment.

State testing to determine legal insanity includes:

  • M’naghten Test – Most states rely on the M’naghten test, a cognitive test that assesses a person’s perceptions and thought processes at the time the crime was committed.
  • Durham Test – This test is only used in New Hampshire. The only requirement to prove legal insanity is to show that the criminal act was a product of mental impairment or disease.
  • Brawner Rule – Approximately 20 states use the Brawner Rule. This rule states a person is not responsible for what is considered criminal conduct, if he/she lacks the capacity to recognize a criminal act because of mental illness or disease. This rule can’t be used if the person has a history of repeated criminal actions.

Temporary Insanity Pleas

In some cases. a criminal defense attorney Minneapolis may urge a defendant to plead temporary insanity. In many cases, it’s difficult for the prosecution to prove that the defendant was not insane at the time of the crime. Temporary insanity pleas usually involve crimes of passion where emotions are irrational in the heat of the moment. While insanity pleas are hard to prove, temporary insanity pleas may show that a defendant did not premeditate his/her crime.

Max Keller has won countless jury trial cases involving misdemeanors and felonies, sex crimes, and DWI’s. He is a member of the Minnesota Society for Criminal Justice, which only allows the top 50 criminal defense attorneys in the state as members. Max is a frequent speaker at CLE’s and is often asked for advice by other defense attorneys across Minnesota.

Years of Experience: Approx. 20 years
Minnesota Registration Status: Active
Bar & Court Admissions: State of Minnesota Minnesota State Court Minnesota Federal Court 8th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals State of Maryland

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