Pleading Insanity: 3 Facts You Should Know Before Asserting This Legal Defense

One of the only defense strategies that can be use in all criminal proceedings is an insanity defense. By pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, a defendant is able to admit that they committed a crime, but ask that the jury does not hold them criminally liable for their actions due to a mental defect or disorder. While this defense strategy can be quite effective in some cases, there are a few facts that you should know before choosing to assert this defense in your own case.

The Burden Of Proof Rests On The Defense

In a typical criminal trial, the burden of proof will rest on the prosecution. This is because the justice system presumes that all defendants are innocent until proven guilty. Therefore, the only thing that the defense needs to prove is that the prosecution has not proven their case beyond a reasonable doubt. If the defense is successful in this task, the jury will legally be required to return a verdict of not guilty. However, this is not the case when choosing to use an insanity defense.

When pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, the burden of proof shifts from the prosecution to the defense. Since the defendant has already admitted to committing the crime, the prosecution is no longer charged with the task of proving the defendant's guilt. Furthermore, since the legal system presumes all defendants are sane unless proven otherwise, the prosecution will not bear the burden of proving the defendant's sanity. Instead, the burden of proving insanity will fall squarely on the defense.

An Acquittal Is No Longer Possible

In order to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, you will need to fully confess to your crimes. This means that the jury will no longer have the option of returning a traditional not guilty verdict. In the event that you are unable to prove your insanity defense, you will be subject to the same consequences as any other defendant who is convicted of a crime. To make matters worse, you will have forfeited your opportunity to trade your confession for a plea deal that offers a reduced sentence.

Consequences Can Still Be Assessed

If your defense attorney is able to successfully present an insanity defense on your behalf, you may still be subjected to consequences by the legal system. This is because the legal system does not eliminate the need to punish mentally ill defendants, but rather recognizes that these defendants require treatment rather than confinement. Consequently, while you may not receive a prison sentence as a result of your crimes, you may be confined to a mental institution until which time your physician determines you are no longer a threat to society or yourself. In some cases, this involuntary commitment could last a lifetime even if your crime would not typically constitute a life sentence.