How Often Do Criminal Defendants Use the Insanity Defense?

Insanity DefenseWatch enough crime and legal dramas on television and in the movie theater, and you could easily conclude that the insanity defense is a common defense in criminal cases. In reality, however, a defendant pleading not guilty due to mental illness is a relatively rare event.

The insanity defense also differs in both form and application depending on whether an accused is facing prosecution at the federal or state level. Furthermore, a handful of states have abolished the insanity defense entirely.

If you’re facing a criminal charge, you an’t afford to go without the help of an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer.

Changes in the Insanity Defense

The September 2016 release of John Hinckley, who infamously attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 in an attempt to win the admiration and affection of Hollywood actress, Jodie Foster, has caused curiosity and discussions about the insanity defense to resurface.

It is interesting to note that Hinckley’s acquittal — which came after he successfully argued that he was insane at the time of the assassination attempt — caused Congress, as well as lawmakers in many states, to modify their insanity defense statutes.

When Hinckley stood trial in 1982, federal law automatically shifted the burden of proof to the prosecution to prove that a defendant lacked substantial mental capacity to understand that his or her actions were wrong.

According to a PBS Frontline report, new federal rules put the evidentiary burden on the defendant, requiring those who raise the insanity defense to prove their mental state. Additionally, following Hinckley’s case, 30 states revised their laws to toughen the insanity defense, and a small number of states got rid of it altogether.

The Rarity of the Insanity Defense

Although many people believe that the insanity defense is raised often in criminal trials, this is incorrect. In fact, the insanity defense is something of a rarity in criminal prosecutions.

According to a report published by NPR, the public perception of the insanity defense is remarkably skewed. In one survey that asked people how often they believed the insanity defense was raised in a two-year span of criminal cases, people believed it played a role 43 percent of the time. Actually, less than one percent of the defendants in those cases used the insanity defense.

The Insanity Defense in Florida

Florida is one of a majority of states that retains the insanity defense. Under Section 775.027 of the Florida Statutes, it is an affirmative defense, which means the defendant must bring it up.

The statute requires the accused to prove that he or she had a mental infirmity, defect, or disease at the time of the criminal act, and that because of this condition, the defendant “did not know what he or she was doing or its consequences” or knew what he or she was doing but didn’t know it was wrong.

After more than 30 years in a mental facility, John Hinckley is now a free man. Although his assassination attempt was unsuccessful, he wounded the President, a secret service agent, a police officer, and Press Secretary James Brady, who was permanently disabled and confined to a wheelchair following the attempt.

Jacksonville Criminal Defense Lawyers

If you have been charged with a crime, you need the help of an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer. Don’t leave your case or your future to chance. Call today to speak to a knowledgeable lawyer about your options.

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