How the Insanity Defense Works in Massachusetts

You’re probably familiar with the insanity defense, but do you understand how it works, how a defendant may be found not guilty by reason of insanity, and what the outcome of such a ruling is? No, an insanity defense does not claim that a defendant is innocent, but rather that they did commit the criminal act, but are not legally culpable for their conduct because of poor mental health.

A defense of insanity is different than other defenses, such as self-defense. If someone is found not guilty by reason of insanity, they are not released. Instead they are committed to a mental institution, and though many believe an insanity defense can help anyone avoid a prison sentence, the reality is much different.

How the Insanity Defense Works in Massachusetts

According to law, all people are presumed to be sane, which means that the law assumes a defendant is sane until that defendant can prove that they are not. A defendant bears the burden of proving their insanity, which they must prove with clear and convincing evidence. Successfully proving insanity can be very difficult.

First, a defendant must show that the insanity existed at the time the crime occurred. Insanity only needs to exist at the time of the crime, so it is possible for a defendant to claim temporary insanity, or that they were insane only for a short duration. Even if a defendant is found competent and sane in court, they may be able to mount an insanity defense based on their mental capacity at the time of the crime.

Second, a defendant must show that due to the insanity, they either (1) were not able to understand the consequences of their actions or (2) understood the consequences of their actions but were not able to tell that what they were doing was wrong.

Not only must a defendant prove all the elements above, they must do so by clear and convincing evidence–a high standard to meet. Clear and convincing evidence is higher than by a preponderance of the evidence, which is the standard used in civil cases.

If you or your loved one has been arrested for a crime, please contact our Boston criminal defense lawyer at Brad Bailey Law. We can provide you with the representation needed throughout the criminal process. Call (617) 500-0252 or contact us onlinetoday.


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