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Being charged with a criminal offense can turn your life upside down. It can be equally traumatic if you or your loved ones feel that the state of your mental health contributed to you committing the criminal act. Unfortunately, what you think is a valid defense in court may be almost impossible to prove. It is possible, just extremely difficult with the odds of winning a case with that defense being very low.

A mental health defense is very complicated. Psychology is not an exact science because it deals with human personalities and cannot be precision in nature. Psychologists use a lot of estimating and subjective analysis when forming their opinions Because of this, you can interview several experts and get numerous different opinions and interpretations of facts.

Another complication occurs when the defendant who is assumed to have a mental disorder is unable to understand how the proceedings work and cannot rationally answer questions posed to them. The judicial system is designed around a reasonable understanding and voluntary choices, and when confronted with a personality contrary to the workings of the court, the proceedings do not run smoothly.  

In addition, laws concerning mental health defense are unclear and confusing. Because these cases are often messed up in court, the result is a mixed bag of inconsistent laws. This is the reason a mental health defense is used so rarely.  In cases where they have initially used this defense, ultimately they change the defense in exchange for a better strategy. And even if you win a case using this defense, the punishment for the client is often worse than if the mental health defense was brought up at all.

The courts, depending upon the jurisdiction, use one or more of the tests below to determine legal insanity:

  • The “Irresistible Impulse” test — Because of the mental disease, the defendant was not able to control his behavior, ultimately leading to performing a criminal act
  • The “Durham Rule” — It does not matter what the clinical diagnosis suggests, the defendant’s mental condition was the reason he committed the criminal act
  • The “M’Naghten Rule” — The defendant was unable to comprehend what they did, could not tell right from wrong, because of their mental disorder
  • The “Model Penal Code” Legal Insanity Test — The defendant is diagnosed with a mental defect and was therefore not able to comprehend the seriousness of what he was doing and was unable to stay within the rules of the law

There are some states that do not recognize an insanity defense when up against criminal charges. These states are Kansas, Montana, Idaho and Utah. All of these states except Kansas will allow a guilty but insane verdict. This lets the defendant become institutionalized instead of going to prison.

If you have questions concerning whether or not a case you or your loved ones are faced with can qualify for a mental health or insanity defense, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. They can discuss your case with you and determine the best way to proceed.