What Does It Mean to Plead Insanity?

Published: Jul 14, 2017, by admin in Criminal Defense, Legal Blog

You have likely heard about people who plead insanity in criminal trials. Without any further explanation, you simply assume this means the defendant is crazy, or in more polite terms, seriously mentally ill. If the defendant is truly sick, it must mean they could not understand what they were doing. In some ways, you are on the right track. However, an insanity plea is not that simple. What a physician and lawyer mean when they say “insanity” are two different things.

To learn more about the insanity defense and whether it is appropriate for your or your loved one’s situation, contact our Chicago criminal defense attorneys at O’Meara Law LLC right away. For a free consultation, call 312-909-0706.

The Insanity Defense in Illinois

Illinois law 720 ILCS 5/6-2 explains the insanity defense to criminal charges. The statute says you are not criminally responsible for your conduct if at the time of such conduct, as a result of mental disease or mental defect, you lack substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of your actions.

To use this defense in court, you must have evidence:

  • Of your having a mental defect or disease prior to the criminal conduct
  • Your mental defect or disease made you incapable of understanding the illegality of your actions

What is a Mental Disease or Mental Defect?

It is important to understand what a mental disease or defect is not. Legal insanity is not simply a mental illness. You can suffer from a mental illness and still understand right from wrong and the criminal nature of your conduct. Mental illnesses do not automatically make you eligible to plead insanity if charged with a crime.

A mental disease or defect is not any abnormality in your behavior, mood, or thought that arose because of repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct. Also, it is not diminished capacity due to drugs or alcohol. Becoming drunk or high is not a basis for pleading insanity.

But what is a mental defect or disease? When putting forth an insanity defense in court, you need to meet the American Law Institute (ALI) test used by Illinois. You must show that at the time of the crime, you did not have the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of your conduct. Your mental disease or defect for the purposes of defense must arise to the level of making you unable to recognize your wrongdoing and judge your criminality.

This is an incredibly high standard and difficult to support in court. You may have a great deal of evidence that you suffer from a mental illness. However, it can be difficult to show a judge or jury that you could not understand that what you were doing was a crime.

How the Insanity Defense Works in Court

How the insanity defense plays out in court can be a bit confusing. The burden to prove you are insane based on the ALI test is on your and your legal team’s shoulders. However, the prosecutor still has a job to do. They must try to prove you are guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Only if the jury finds you are guilty of the crime does it then move on to determine whether you can sufficiently prove your insanity. If the prosecutor did not meet their burden, you are simply found innocent. If you are found guilty as well as insane, then you will receive the verdict of “not guilty by reason of insanity.” However, if you are found guilty yet you did not provide enough evidence of your insanity, then you will be found guilty and punished according to the law.

The Results of a Successful Insanity Defense

It is essential that you understand a successful insanity defense does not win you freedom. In most circumstances, a defendant found not guilty by reason of insanity is committed to a hospital or institution for mental health treatment. You could be confined to this facility for a great deal of time, even longer than a prison sentence would have been for the crime.

Let Our Chicago Criminal Defense Lawyers Help You

If you or a loved one are facing criminal charges in Illinois contact us at O’Meara Law LLC as soon as possible. There may be multiple defense strategies available in your or your loved one’s situation. If we believe there is enough evidence to plead insanity, we can discuss how this would work and the possible consequences. However, if we do not believe there is enough evidence to successfully prove insanity, we can discuss the strongest defenses possible under the law.

Call O’Meara Law LLC today at 312-909-0706.