When Can You Use Insanity as a Defense in a Criminal Case?

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There are many possible defenses you may use to avoid a conviction in your criminal case in Texas, and “insanity” is one of them. As a defense strategy, “insanity” refers to the defendant’s mental state when he or she commits a criminal offense. 

If you or someone you love did something wrong but is suffering from a mental illness, you may be able to use this affirmative defense to avoid a conviction. However, insanity is rarely available in criminal cases in Texas, which is why it is essential to consult with a McLennan County criminal defense attorney to determine if you can raise the insanity defense in your criminal case. (Read more about attorney-client privilege)

What Does the Insanity Defense Mean?

The insanity defense means pleading not guilty to a crime because of a mental illness. While you may be able to use the insanity defense in your criminal case, it does not necessarily mean that you can be found innocent and walk free if you committed a crime. 

If you are found mentally insane and can successfully raise the insanity defense, you will be directed to a mental institution. You will be ordered to stay at the mental hospital for a specific amount of time as if you were sentenced to serve time in prison. 

The standard for the insanity defense is rather strict in criminal cases in Texas. You cannot be found not guilty by reason of insanity if you were not deemed clinically insane by a qualified medical doctor. 

It is imperative to seek the legal counsel of a skilled criminal defense lawyer who can help you understand your defense options and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were not sane at the time of the offense. 

As mentioned earlier, the insanity defense is not available in the vast majority of criminal cases. The defense can be asserted when it applies to the facts of the case, and the defendant has a mental illness or defect that prevents him/her from understanding that they were doing something wrong when committing the offense.

How to Determine if a Defendant Was Insane When Committing a Crime?

Texas courts use the so-called “M’Naghten Rule” to determine if a defendant is insane for the insanity defense to succeed. When determining if a defendant has a mental illness that prevents them from understanding what they were doing, Texas courts examine the two elements of the M’Naghten Rule: 

  1. Did the defendant know the act they were committing? 

  2. Did the defendant know that their actions were wrong? 

In one of the criminal cases after the M’Naghten Rule was established, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals clarified that the defendant raising the insanity defense must present clear and convincing evidence to prove that:

  • The defendant was in an “extreme delusional state” when committing the criminal offense; and

  • The extreme delusional state caused the defendant to misunderstand the nature of their acts or believe that they were not doing something wrong. 

When being accused of a crime, the prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to secure a conviction. The standard of proof is different when raising the insanity defense in a criminal case. The defendant must prove their insanity by a preponderance of the evidence to prevail. 

(Related: The Defense of Insanity in Texas)

How to Raise the Insanity Defense in Texas? 

It is rather difficult to successfully use the insanity defense, which is why it is essential to contact an experienced attorney to help you understand your options. Contrary to popular belief, using the insanity defense will not allow you to walk free. 

If you intend to use the insanity defense in your criminal case, you are legally required to provide notice of your intent to raise this affirmative defense. Without this notice of intent, you cannot raise the insanity defense in Texas. Consult with an attorney to help you provide the notice properly and follow other procedural requirements to protect your rights and ensure a favorable outcome. 

In addition to the notice of your intent to raise the insanity defense, you need to demonstrate proof that a copy of the notice was served on the State attorney. You are legally required to provide the notice at least 20 days before the trial date unless a pre-trial hearing was scheduled before the 20-day period expires. In that case, the defendant who intends to raise the insanity defense must provide notice at the hearing. 

If you fail to provide the notice of intent before raising the insanity defense, evidence of your insanity will be inadmissible unless the court finds that you or your lawyer had good cause for the failure to give the notice in a timely manner. 

If the defense fails to provide this notice, evidence on the issue of insanity is inadmissible unless the court finds that there is good cause for the failure.

What Happens if a Court Finds a Defendant Insane? 

Just because a defendant is found guilty due to their insanity does not mean that the defendant can walk free be released from custody. Instead, the court will evaluate the defendant’s mental illness to determine the appropriate length of stay in a mental institution. 

However, the length of stay in the mental hospital cannot exceed the maximum possible prison sentence for the specific criminal offense. 

You Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer to Use the Insanity Defense

Your McLennan County criminal defense lawyer may help you use the insanity defense to help you plead guilty and avoid a criminal conviction. At The Law Office of Brett H. Pritchard, our criminal defense lawyers have handled numerous cases where the insanity defense was available to defendants facing serious felony and misdemeanor charges. 

We know what it takes to prove that you did not understand the potential implications of your actions because you were suffering from a mental illness or defect when committing the criminal offense. 

Let our skilled attorneys evaluate your particular situation and determine if you use the insanity defense under the circumstances of your criminal case. Schedule a free case evaluation by calling (254) 220-4225.

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