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You Can Plead Insanity in Florida, but Should You?

CrimLaw6

When you hear the word “insanity,” it probably calls to mind fantastical images, most of them belonging to bygone times. Do you think of the frail Salieri, housed in what is practically a cage, in the opening scene of Amadeus? Do you think of the ravings of the unreliable narrators whose deranged thoughts flowed from the pen of Edgar Allan Poe? Is insanity the state of the characters in Stephen King’s novels who have been influenced by evil supernatural forces so outlandish that they could only have come from King’s imagination? The idea that sanity and insanity are such clearly delineated states has little to do with our modern understanding of mental health and mental illness. The idea of insanity may be outdated, but it still possible for a defendant’s mental illness to influence the outcome of a criminal case. Criminal defense attorneys in Florida still sometimes argue that a defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity, meaning that, because of his mental illness, he should not be punished for the crime.

Does Mental Illness Excuse Criminal Behavior? 

Mental illnesses are very common, affecting approximately one in five American adults. The rate of mental illness among people found guilty of crimes is almost exactly the same as among the general population, which means that people with mental illnesses are no more likely to commit crimes than anyone else. When using mental illness as a defense, the defendant’s attorney must argue that the mental illness prevented the defendant from knowing right from wrong. Especially given the medical community’s better understanding of mental illness, it would be easy for the prosecution to cross examine a medical expert witness about whether the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime interfered with his ability to know right from wrong. Most mental illnesses do not interfere with one’s judgment to such an extent.

Proceed with Caution with the Insanity Defense 

Even if the defense presents evidence of the defendant’s mental illness, the jury might still find him guilty. Mentally ill defendants are subject to the same punishments as defendants with no history of mental illness, if they are found guilty. (Taking another example from fiction, even Hannibal Lecter went to prison.) Insanity pleas are an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant admits to committing the crime but asserts that he does not deserve punishment for it. You should always be careful with affirmative defenses, because you are acknowledging that you committed the crime, and the question is now only if you have a valid excuse.

Even if you are found innocent by reason of insanity, you do not necessarily get to walk free. Judges refer defendants found not guilty by reason of insanity for inpatient psychiatric evaluation at a hospital. Physicians submit a report with treatment recommendations, and your mental health treatment, including medications and even hospitalization, can become a legal matter as well as a medical one.

Reach Out to Us Today for Help 

Structuring your defense arguments in a criminal case requires expertise. Contact Bundza & Rodriguez, P.A. in Daytona Beach, Florida to see if it is a good idea to mention your mental health history in your defense.

Resources:

leg.state.fl.us/Statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0700-0799/0775/Sections/0775.027.html

nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers

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