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What is Not Guilty by Grounds of Insanity?

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What is Not Guilty by Grounds of Insanity?

Hi I’m attorney Kevin Hayslett, and the question is: understanding the insanity defenses. In most jurisdictions a criminal person cannot be prosecuted if that person is criminally insane. If a person’s sanity is in question, before that person is brought to trial, most courts will have an inquiry to see if that person is sane in order to be prosecuted. The theory behind this is if a person is insane, not mentally competent, that person is not able to provide their lawyer with assistance for his or her defense. If a person is not mentally able to be prosecuted, that person is usually housed in a state-run mental facility until they become sane or unless a judge appoints them and designates them to a facility for a set period of time. Generally, when we think of an insanity defense we think of the not guilty by grounds of insanity or temporary insanity.  

Many people who watch TV or movies think that this is an often used defense, usually it is not. It is a very complex series of defenses that have to be made, first to a judge and then to a jury. The rule is generally defines under the M'Naghten rule which simply means that the person at the time they committed the defense did not understand the difference between right and wrong. If that can be proved at the time of trial, a jury can acquit someone or find them not guilty, by reason of insanity.

Now before we get to that stage, a defense attorney who relies on the insanity defense will have to subject the defendant to their physiatrist who would have to testify at trial, and also a government appointed physiatrist by the prosecution to see if that person has a valid defense meaning that person was validly mentally ill and did not understand the difference between right and wrong at the time the criminal offense occurred. For example in a murder case, if someone kills somebody and at the time of the killing that person did not understand the difference between right and wrong, the defense would have to put an insanity defense before the jury. They would have to call a physiatrist to testify those facts and the government would have the ability to cross-examine that physiatrist and bring their own physiatrist to inform the jury if perhaps the person was sane at the time.

Remember this, if a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the person does not get to go home. Generally, jurisdictions will require that person to be housed in a state mental health facility until the courts determine that person is safe to be released. So just because that person is acquitted by being insane, not guilty by reason of insanity, that person does not get to walk out of the courthouse. They may be subjected to a state-run government mental health facility.


J. Kevin Hayslett

Kevin Hayslett, Esq.

J. Kevin Hayslettis an attorney practicing in the areas of Criminal Defense and DUI Defense from the Clearwater office and Hillsborough office. Kevin is an avid tennis player and is currently nationally rated in singles and doubles. You can follow Kevin onGoogle+, oron Radio IO on his show, "Kevin's Law". Kevin can also be heard on the Sirius Satellite Radio show during the "Ask the Lawyer" segment, which can be heard the first Thursday of every month.