insanity criminal defense

Is Insanity a Defense to a Criminal Conviction?

From being at another place at the same time to being drugged by someone else, there are various defenses to an accusation of a crime. But what if someone did commit a crime, but was not aware that doing so was wrong because of mental illness or defect? Can he or she be held morally blameless from being convicted? Can someone plead not guilty by reason of insanity? Yes, they can and this is known as the insanity defense. The insanity defense exists so that we may ensure the fairness of our legal system.  

Although this affirmative defense is available in Texas, it’s not widely used. This is likely because the standard for proving insanity for purposes of the law is very strict. Someone can be found to be medically insane but not legally insane. 

A Successful Insanity Defense is not the Same as a Finding of Innocence

However, being found not guilty by reason of mental disease and defect is not the same thing as being found innocent. Even if someone is found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect (the insanity defense), he or she will not simply get to go home. Instead, they will be sent to a mental hospital where they can remain for up to the same amount of time, as they would have been imprisoned. 

The M’Naghten Rule

So how does Texas determine if someone was insane at the time that the crime was committed? The state follows a test known as the M’Naghten Rule, which is named for the case in which the insanity defense originated. There are two parts of this test that come down to the defendant’s cognitive abilities:

  1. Whether the accused knew the act that he or she was committing; and
  2. Whether the accused knew that his or her actions were wrong. 

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later clarified this rule, stating that the defendant must be able to prove that he or she was in an “extreme delusional state [which] caused [him or her] to misperceive the very nature of [his or her] acts, or to believe that in acting, [he or she was] obeying rather than violating the laws of society. 

In other words, the defendant must be able to show sound evidence of mental disease or defect – that he or she did not know what he or she was doing and that it was wrong. While the prosecution must prove that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to convict, the defendant only needs to prove insanity by a preponderance of the evidence (it is more likely than not that he or she was insane at the time the crime was committed).

Even after the M’Naghten test has been met through the production of evidence, it can still be difficult for the defendant to be successful. This is because, under Texas criminal law, the court, State attorney, and Defense attorney are prohibited from telling the jury or prospective jury what could happen if an insanity defense was successful. Since many people believe that being found not guilty by mental disease or defect is the same thing as innocent and would let them walk free, an insanity defense can be difficult to win. 

Providing Notice of Intent

When a defendant is going to raise an insanity defense he or she must provide notice of this intent, as well as a certification that a copy of this notice was served on the State attorney. 

The notice must be filed a minimum of 20 days before the start of the trial unless there is a pretrial hearing before such 20-day period. If the latter takes place, the defendant must provide notice at the hearing. If the defendant fails to properly provide notice, evidence of insanity will not be admissible in court. 

The Attorneys at Ceja Law Firm Help Those in Houston Who Have Been Charged with a Crime

If you have been charged with a crime in Texas but the facts of the case show that you were suffering from a mental disease or defect at the time that you committed the crime, you may have an insanity defense. 

At Ceja Law Firm PLLC, we understand the importance of a fair trial and legal system. That’s why we will work to help you obtain the best possible outcome. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!