Why Defense Attorneys Don’t Use the Insanity Defense in California

At the climax of many movies and legal dramas, an attorney’s defense of “not guilty by reason of insanity” may play out well on screen and keep your eyes peeled. These scenes usually reveal that an attorney used the insanity defense to give a defendant the alternative of serving time in an institution instead of prison, leaving time to gather critical evidence that will clear their name. However, very few criminal defense attorneys in California will use this defense in their cases. less than 30 cases a year are heard under this defense, and here are the reasons why and a few other things you should know about the insanity defense.

Insanity is Difficult to Prove to Jurors

When a criminal defense attorney uses the insanity defense, they must meet the rigid criteria stated in the M’Naghten standard. The M’Naghten rule is that a person who commits the crime does not recognize it as wrong (legally or morally) due to a mental defect or disease that qualifies them for the "not guilty by reason of insanity" defense. The courts in each state determine the test or tests that will be administered to assess someone's mental capacity when this defense is used. If the test determines that the defendant has a mental illness or defect, that will prevent them from being liable for the criminal act.

Similar to the idea of a defendant being innocent until proven guilty, the M’Naghten rule requires jurors to presume the defendant is sane until their attorney can prove otherwise. When using the Insanity Defense, the criminal defense attorney is burdened to prove that the defendant had a mental defect or disease that made it impossible for the defendant to know the difference between wrong and right at the time of the crime. When a defendant enters a mental state where they do not know what their alternative personality is doing, insanity may be a viable defense.

Institutions Are Not Considered Preferable to Prison

In most cases, time in an institution is not preferable to time in prison. Those found not guilty under this defense are not free to go back on the street without serving time for their crime. Instead, confinement in a mental facility continues until the defendant is proven not to be a threat to themselves or the general public. Mental institutions often administer medications that can alter the mind, which has its own issues for those who may want this defense but are not mentally incapacitated. Studies have shown that time served in a mental health facility extends beyond what time would normally be served in prison for the same crime.

Proving insanity can be expensive because expert witnesses and medical records must be gathered. Additionally, statistics show that when an insanity defense is used and not granted, the prison term may end up being longer than it would have been originally. Working with someone with experience will help determine the best defense for your unique case. A plea bargain is another way defense attorneys can help their clients when facing prison time.

Defense Attorneys May Suggest Filing Competency to Stand Trial

When a defense lawyer uses the defendant’s mental state at the time of trial to ask for a postponement, this is competency to stand trial. Often, this extension of a trial date is based on the mental state at the time of the trial. An example would be a traumatic event that took place when the trial was scheduled, and the trauma affected the defendant’s ability to communicate clearly or recall events relating to the criminal charges. This is not the same as the insanity defense. If a defendant is granted a postponement, it is only until they are deemed competent to stand trial.

When the Insanity Defense is Beneficial

When someone mentally ill commits a crime, this defense protects them from punishment for actions they do not understand. In these cases, a patient may benefit from being at a mental health institution. Confinement may be preferable to prison for someone who needs mental health attention. It also prevents defendants who are mentally insane from the death penalty.

Working with a San Diego-based criminal defense attorney is critical if you face criminal charges in the county. The Law Office of Joni Eisenstein is based in Oceanside and helps clients throughout San Diego County. Attorney Eisenstein offers free consultation calls to clients facing charges of assault and battery, theft, DUIs, and other violations. When it counts, work with the best criminal defense lawyers in the area to ensure a favorable outcome for your case. Only someone with decades of experience, inside knowledge of the courts, and a judge's decision history can make a difference. Attorney Joni Eisenstein has all of these and more. She has been helping people throughout San Diego County fight criminal charges and successfully negotiating on their behalf since 1993.

Arrest and conviction can devastate your life, so instead of waiting and leaving your case to chance, contact the Law Office of Joni Eisenstein today!

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