Definition - What does Insanity Defense mean?
The insanity defense refers to a legal defense in a court of law, where a person is not held culpable for their actions due to their mental health issue(s). These mental health issues can include both permanent mental health issues and episodic mental health issues.
Insanity itself is a state of extreme derangement or unsoundness of mind; it’s a form of mental illness in which the afflicted person does not have a sufficient enough grasp of reality to be considered rational.
Legally speaking, being declared insane can remove one from the responsibility of committing a crime, because conscious knowledge of one's actions is required. In these cases, the individual is presumed to be in such a profound state of mental incompetence that they are incapable of understanding or adhering to the law. Defense attorneys will claim that their clients cannot be held accountable for the crime because they are "insane" or psychologically unfit to be responsible for their own actions.
Insanity can also prevent a person from being deemed suitable to sign their own legal contracts.
Justipedia explains Insanity Defense
In the United States, criminal trials are broken into two separate phases: the guilt phase and the sentencing phase. The insanity defense is only used during the sentencing phase in the U.S. During the phase where the judge or jury is determining whether the defendant is guilty, the defendant's attorney is not allowed to bring in any evidence concerning their client's mental state. However, if the defendant is found to be guilty of a crime, then the defense attorney can ask for their client's sentence to be shortened, or even lifted, due to the defendant’s insane state of mind during the act of the crime.
To be considered insane, the defendant must exhibit clear signs of extreme mental illness. It’s important that defendants are able to help with their defense. So, a court may order that they take medication for a specific period to make them competent during trial. Medical professionals in the fields of psychology and psychiatry are often consulted to examine the defendant and help clear up such matters. The opinions and conclusions drawn from such professionals can be of great use to the court when insanity is a relevant issue for the trial.
Many people who are found guilty, but insane, will serve their time in a mental health facility / psychiatric hospital that treats prisoners until they are deemed no longer a threat to society.
The insanity defense is not easily won; it’s rare to receive the verdict of "Not guilty by reason of insanity." It’s important to note that simply having a mental illness does not make a person insane in the eyes of the law.