Mental Health and the Law

The American justice system protects those are found to be mentally incompetent, and seeks help for such defendants. Criminal defendants who are found to be legally insane cannot be convicted of charges arising from a particular mental disability. Depending on the jurisdiction, Courts use one of several legal tests to determine whether a defendant actually is legally insane. They two  main tests include the Model Penal Code Test and and the M’Naghten Rule.

Washington state uses the M’Naghten rule. The M’Naghten Rule focuses on whether a criminal defendant knew the nature of the crime or understood right from wrong at the time it was committed. The defendant must meet one of the two distinct criteria. Some courts differ as to whether the “wrong” in question refers to moral or legal wrong, or if it refers to both. Additionally, some states have eliminated the first part of the test in which a defendant is ruled legally insane for not fully understanding what he or she has done.

The rule which was established by the English House of Lords in the mid-19th Century, states:

“Every man is to be presumed to be sane, and … that to establish a defense on the ground of insanity, it must be clearly proved that, at the time of the committing of the act, the party accused was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of mind, and not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing; or if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong.”

An example of this occurred several years ago, when a man murdered his wife and daughter, and then waited calmly for the police to arrive. Three mental health experts testified that he was too psychologically ill to understand that his criminal acts were wrong. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to 10 years in a mental health facility.

Another example was when a woman with severe schizophrenia is charged with assault and battery after attacking her next door neighbor with a shovel. She claims the neighbor was actually a demon who was trying to harvest her soul. She was found not guilty by reason of insanity after the court determined that she failed to understand the nature of her actions.

This particular test for legal insanity has been challenged for a number of reasons. Some have argued that defendants meeting the legal definition of insanity do always meet the medical criteria for insanity, but are sentenced to mandatory medical care anyway. Another criticism is that it fails to distinguish between defendants posing a public danger and those who do not, or between temporary mental issues and lifelong conditions.

Additionally, some have argued that this rule makes it too easy for a defendant with a severe mental disorder to escape responsibility for any crimes, regardless of how big a role the disorder played in the incident.

If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.

Leave a reply