When Can the Insanity Defense Be Used in a Criminal Case?
The insanity defense can be used when somebody commits a crime not operating in their right mind. In other words, the person cannot realize what they were doing and the consequences of their actions. This usually occurs when somebody either has a mental illness or is temporarily impaired and unable to understand the gravity or consequences of their actions.
In my experience, having successfully used the insanity defense, I typically see the defendant operating under the mistaken belief that they are somehow defending themselves from some evil threat.
The basis for this delusional belief can take many forms. However, the best way to get to the bottom of what is going on is to hire an expert to evaluate the subject person and determine what is causing their delusional behavior.
Both the prosecution and defense are entitled to their expert to determine whether the defendant's conduct is criminal. If the experts have weighed in, it is still unclear to the judge; they can appoint their expert to break the tie.
Even if a person is found not guilty because of insanity that does not feel completely free from the crime, they will be sent to a mental institution to be evaluated and held until they can go back into society.
The government will not allow this person back out into the community until they can determine if they are safe and free from the delusional behavior that got them in trouble in the first place.
In my experience, the best insanity defense is related to circumstances where the person is doing something that doesn't benefit them. Therefore, it can be argued that they genuinely are operating in a delusional state and not trying to gain anything from the criminal activity.
The Law Related to An Insanity Defense - Penal Code 1026 PC
California Penal Code Section 1026 is the starting point for figuring out how to present a successful insanity defense in a criminal case. It states that if a defendant pleads not guilty because of insanity and enters not guilty pleas to the charges, they will first be tried as if they were sane when the crimes were allegedly committed.
If the jury comes back not guilty on the charges, the defendant is acquitted of the costs and can move on with their life. If, on the other hand, the jury comes back guilty, then the jury must next decide if the defendant was not guilty because of insanity or not.
The trial court has the discretion as to whether to use the same jury or use a new jury for the sanity phase of the trial. If a defendant is found not guilty because of insanity, they will not necessarily be set free from custody. The defendant will be housed in a mental hospital until they are sane.
Once determined to be sane, they will be released back into the community. If the defendant is never confined to being rational, they will never be removed from the mental hospital. To be released under the above-described circumstances, the defendant is entitled to a hearing before the trial court that heard their case to determine if sanity has been restored.