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The misconceptions of the insanity defense

The insanity defense is one of the most well-known and misunderstand defense options available to those facing criminal charges. In the past, it was the state’s job to prove that the defendant was mentally fit; however, the Hinckley verdict changes this and now requires the defense to prove the defendant insane in most cases. Despite what some people may think, this is easier said than done, and even in cases where the defendant is found to be mentally ill, a guilty verdict is still possible.

Two things often confused are whether a defendant is insane and whether a defendant is competent to stand trial. All defendants must be competent to stand trial, but this just means that they are able to understand the criminal proceedings and are able to help their defense by cooperating with a defense attorney.

A person’s competency to stand trial is completely separate from a decision on guilt or innocence. If the courts rule that the defendant is not competent to stand trial, the trial is likely to be postponed while the defendant undergoes medical treatment until he is able to proceed.

Even in cases where a defendant is determined to be mentally ill, this doesn’t automatically mean that he or she will be acquitted of the charges. In some cases, there will be verdict called “guilty but mentally ill,” which means that the defendant is found to be both mentally ill but also able to be held liable for the offenses. In these cases, defendants receive treatment for their mental health issues while they are in prison or may possibly be placed temporarily in a mental health facility before being moved to prison later on.

Source: FindLaw, “Current Application of the Insanity Defense,” accessed July 08, 2015

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