If charged with a crime, you may be able to use insanity as a defense to the crime if you lacked the mental capacity to realize what you were doing was wrong and you could not conform your behavior to the standards of the law. Despite its frequent depiction in movies and pop culture as a common tool by the defense in criminal trials, in real life it rarely happens. It is even rarer to use it successfully. A defendant that has a mental health history, is being treated with psychotropic medications, or lacks memory of the events that occurred should discuss the possibility of an insanity defense with an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney as a possible plea option or trial strategy.
The definition that law uses for legal insanity is different than what we might think it would be. A defendant is considered legally insane if he suffered from significant mental health problems at the time the charged offense occurred. It means the defendant is not capable of forming the intent necessary to be found guilty of crimes, specifically those that require a specific intent element. Insanity is a complete defense and a successful insanity defense means the defendant is acquitted. However, that does not mean he is completely let go and off the hook.
It is defined under the Mental Health Code as someone who because of mental illness or mental retardation “lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the nature and quality of the wrongfulness of his conduct, or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” Insanity is a substantial thought or mood disorder that impairs a person’s judgment, behavior, or capacity to recognize reality or cope with the ordinary demands of life. Retardation refers to significantly sub-average intellectual functioning. If either of these exist and made it so a person cannot understand that his actions are wrong, he may be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Diminished Capacity and Guilty but Mentally Ill
Diminished capacity is a “mental abnormality less severe than insanity.” It is still used by many jurisdictions. The Michigan Supreme Court nixed diminished capacity as a possible defense in 2011 so it is no longer an option in Michigan. Although, mental conditions at the time of the offense can still be relevant in many ways. Guilty but Mentally Ill is another plea option. It is different than the standard insanity defense as it is not a defense to the crime; the defendant is still found guilty and can be imprisoned. The only benefit is that the Department of Corrections has the option to give the inmate special accommodations for mental health treatment and any confinement in a mental health facility will count towards his prison sentence.
Notice of Special Defense
Insanity is a special defense that the defendant must give advance notice of using both to the court and the prosecutor. There will be a mandatory psychiatric evaluation, usually at the Forensic Center for Psychiatry around Ypsilanti, Michigan. The defendant should also provide a list of doctors who will testify as well as any previous diagnosis and mental health history. Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity (NGRI) is an affirmative defense, meaning it is a rare instance in which the defendant has a burden of proof. Normally a defendant is not required to prove or disprove anything. Affirmative or special defenses must be proven by a preponderance of the evidence. It is a low standard that is usually reserved for civil cases.
If the defendant disagrees with the findings of the Forensic Center, the defendant may petition the judge for another independent evaluation or the defense may hire their own expert to conduct a forensic evaluation. The prosecution is entitled to seek another independent evaluation of the defendant as well upon motion to the judge if they disagree with the findings of the Forensic Center.
What Happens If a Defendant is Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity?
Despite the popular misconceptions, a defendant that is found not guilty by reason of insanity is not let off the hook and free to go back out into society. Far from it. After a successful insanity defense, the defendant must immediately report to the Forensic Center (where the initial evaluation took place) for a period of 30 days. During this period the defendant will be observed, monitored, and treated to see if he is safe to re-enter society. If the Forensic Center does not feel the defendant is mentally stable to come out, they must petition the court and state the reasons why. A court hearing will be ordered and the probate judge will make the decision on whether to keep or release the defendant. If the judge decides the defendant shall remain in the Forensic Center or some other facility, the judge will determine the length of the new period and schedule a review hearing. Once a successful insanity plea is entered, the jurisdiction of the defendant is transferred from the criminal court to the probate court.
The insanity defense is very complex and quite confusing. It can only be raised as a defense at trial if the court allows it. The problem with the insanity defense as many potential jurors do not realize that finding a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity does not mean they are thrusting a crazy person back out into society. A lot of jurors may be leery of voting not guilty by reason of insanity for that reason. The problem is that defense attorneys cannot inform the jury that there is a mandatory evaluation period by law that the judge has no discretion over. It is possible that some defendants may end up in a mental hospital for many years, even longer than the jail or prison sentence could be for the crime they were charged with. Some may even stay there for the rest of their lives. There has been a public outcry and backlash against the insanity defense since John Hinckley, Jr. successfully used the defense for his attempted assassination of President Reagan.
Michigan Insanity Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime, you need to discuss the possibility of an insanity defense and other options with an experienced Michigan criminal defense attorney. Call Austin Legal Services, PLC today at (517) 614-1983 for a free consultation.
Defending misdemeanor and felony criminal charges throughout Michigan in the counties of Ingham, Eaton, Clinton, Gratiot, Calhoun, Kalamazoo, Jackson, Livingston, Washtenaw, Kent, Shiawassee in the cities of Lansing, East Lansing, Mason, Charlotte, St. Johns, Ithaca, Battle Creek, Brighton, Howell, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Corunna, Durand, Kalamazoo, Jackson.