Mental Illness as a Defense
The defense of not guilty by mental illness or by reason of insanity is rarely raised in Minnesota, and when it is, its success is not likely. Studies estimate that the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity is only raised in 1% of criminal cases. Of that 1%, only 25% of cases are deemed successful. However, even though the likelihood of success is low, not guilty by reason of insanity is still a valid defense.
The Insanity Defense
In order for an individual to invoke the not guilty by reason of insanity defense, that person must claim that he should not be criminally liable for committing a crime because he was not of sane mind when the alleged crime occurred. Minnesota law provides that if a person’s mental illness or cognitive impairment resulted in the individual not knowing that an act was criminal or wrong, the insanity defense may be successful in court. In other words, the individual must show that he did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense.
In Minnesota, the M’Naghten standard is used to determine whether an individual is criminally liable for his actions if a mental health defense is raised in court. As described above, this standard requires that an individual’s mental illness be so serious at the time of the offense that he did not know the nature of the act or that it was wrong. Further, the standard requires a severe mental incapacity. A person who experiences hallucinations or delusional thoughts does not automatically meet the M’Naghten standard. The mental illness must be directly related to the offense and the individual’s understanding of the offense at the time it occurred.
In order to examine one’s mental health under this standard, a defense attorney must notify both the judge and prosecutor that she intends to raise a mental illness defense. At this point, a Rule 20.02 assessment will be mandated by the judge. Under the procedures of Rule 20.02, the judge will order a licensed phycologist to evaluate the accused individual’s mental health. If the psychologist determines that the individual did not have the competency to know the difference between right and wrong at the time the crime was committed, the case will be treated under the standards established in Rule 20.02.
The Criminal Trial
After the Rule 20.02 evaluation, the defense and prosecution usually stipulate to the facts of the case, and allow the judge or jury to decide whether the individual was hindered by his mental illness at the time the crime occurred. If the court concludes that the individual’s mental illness caused him to not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense, Rule 20.02 provides that the individual is not guilty by reason of insanity, and that he must be civilly committed.
When an individual is found not guilty by reason of insanity, the court must order that the civil commitment proceedings begin. If civilly committed, the individual may be placed in a secure treatment facility for a period of time longer than the prosecutor’s proposed prison sentence if the individual was found guilty. In fact, release will only occur if the person is determined to no longer suffer from mental illness.
Mental Health Resources
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-8255