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Insanity Defense

More commonly known in New York as the insanity defense, New York Penal Law 40.15 relieves a defendant of criminal responsibility if, generally speaking, due to a mental disease or defect the defendant lacked the capacity to know or understand the meaning and severity of their own acts and lack the ability to know or understand that the acts were improper. The insanity defense is an affirmative defense to criminal charges in the state of New York. The defendant must prove the insanity defense by a preponderance of the evidence.

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Psychiatric evidence is generally relevant to prove the elements of the insanity defense. The insanity defense is generally speaking, a long shot defense, but, under the right circumstances and facts, it may be convincing to a jury. If you or someone you know is mentally ill and committed a crime during a nervous breakdown, hallucination, delusion, or other type of mental health crisis, please call our experienced New York Criminal Lawyers today for a free consultation.

Insanity has a particular legal definition and it is in fact, not a medical or psychiatric term. Many psychiatric and medical conditions can provide relevant evidence to help prove a defense of insanity including, but not limited to: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder with manic symptoms, delusional disorder, fugue, traumatic brain injury, brain tumors, organic brain damage, delirium tremens, acute psychotic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, paranoid personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and borderline personality disorder. Generally speaking, the degree of disordered thinking and hallucination by the defendant must be so severe that it would be convincing to a skeptical person that the defendant had a very significant detachment from reality during the commission of their crime. Judges and juries are often skeptical of defendants arguing the insanity defense and believe they may be pretending to be mentally ill, even when extremely severe mental illness played a significant role in the commission of the criminal acts that the defendant is accused of.

Lack of competency to stand trial and the insanity defense are two different concepts and should not be confused. Just because one has been found not competent to stand trial at one point does not prove or show evidence of insanity. Although some of the same evidence may be introduced to prove both theories, lack of competency to stand trial is based on the defendant’s mental state at trial. The insanity defense is based on the defendant’s mental state during the commission of the crime. The Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court has made clear that determinations of lack of competency to stand trial and lack of responsibility because of mental disease or defect are separate concepts. Evidence which may be relevant and admissible to show the defendant's ability to understand the court proceedings and to assist his lawyer would generally reveal very little about a person’s possible guilt of the crimes alleged. See, Westchester Rockland Newspapers, Inc. v. Leggett.

Although a loved one or family member may have been found not competent to stand trial at one point, that determination does not prove or disprove an insanity defense that may be raised at a later time.

The insanity defense has a number of unique and unfavorable procedural features. Defendants that plan to present an insanity defense at trial must give notice to the government and the court before trial and the defendant must submit to a mental examination before trial. In this medical examination statements made by the defendant can be admitted as evidence against insanity. An insanity defense also waives physician-patient privilege and the Fifth Amendment privilege against self incrimination in reference to the defendant’s mental health. Due to the unfavorable procedural requirements of the insanity defense, should someone plan on mounting it, they need experienced New York criminal lawyers to help in their defense.

If you or someone you know is mentally ill and committed a crime during a nervous breakdown, hallucination, delusion, or other type of mental health crisis, please call our experienced New York criminal lawyers today for a free consultation. We can help present the best defense possible.

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