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Understanding the Criminal Insanity Defense

In television shows and crime movies, you may have heard cases in which a defendant pleads “not guilty by reason of insanity.” The insanity defense is a complicated legal defense because to successfully issue the plea, the attorney must prove that a medical diagnosis is the cause of criminal behavior.

So, what does insanity mean in a criminal case?

The Definition of Insanity

Declaring a defendant “criminally insane” means they have a mental illness that prevents them from understanding the severity of their actions. According to federal law, the burden of proof requires the defendant to prove their mental illness beyond a reasonable doubt with convincing evidence. To prove something beyond a reasonable doubt means that the defense presents evidence to the point that the jury is fully convinced by their argument. Psychiatric testimony, medical and criminal history, and other evidence may help support the insanity defense.

AZ Insanity Law

Arizona’s insanity defense law has evolved over the decades. According to the law, “a defendant can be found guilty except insane if, at the time of the offense, he or she did not know that the criminal act was wrong. If found insane, the defendant will be sentenced to the Department of Corrections but placed in a mental health facility.”

Types of Insanity Defenses

To prove criminal insanity, a host of tests are used to determine whether a defendant’s mental disease or incapacity resulted in the commission of a crime. They include:

M’Naghten insanity defense: This is a criminal insanity test used to determine if a defendant’s mental incapacity prohibited them from understanding the nature of their actions and/or the fact that their actions were wrong.

Irresistible impulse defense: If a defendant could not resist the impulse to commit the crime in question due to their mental illness, even if they knew their actions were wrong.

Substantial capacity test: Under this test, “A person is not responsible for criminal conduct if at the time of such conduct as a result of mental disease or defect he lacks substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality [wrongfulness] of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.”

A.L.I standard: This introduced the use of medical and psychiatric evidence when proving criminal insanity. The American Language Institute (ALI) standards hold that a defendant will not be held criminally responsible for their alleged crime if, “As a result of a mental disease or defect [they lack] substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of their conduct or to conform [they are] conduct to the requirements of the law.”

The insanity defense is a viable option if a defendant can “pass” these tests. As seasoned criminal defense lawyers with decades of combined years of experience, we understand when and how to employ this strategic defense successfully, and will determine if the insanity defense supports your case once you retain our representation.

Why Choose Us?

With over 60 years of shared experience and numerous award-winning professionals on our staff, trust Territorial Law to help you build a strong strategy and increase your chances at a favorable outcome. We can investigate the circumstances surrounding your case, work with you to create a case strategy, and offer support throughout the criminal process. We believe that our clients deserve the highest caliber of legal guidance so we provide a variety of criminal defense strategies to support them during this difficult time. Our Yuma lawyers understand the strategies that work in successful cases, giving us in-depth insights into how the other side is likely to structure their approach.

Entrust your case to a firm that cares. Contact Territorial Law, LLC today for more information.