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Pleading Insanity

May 18, 2018

By van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim

One of the criteria for committing a crime is that the defendant must know, or should know, that the particular action that they are engaged in is illegal. Because of this, when a person commits a crime and is pronounced legally insane at the time of the crime, they may be found innocent of the offense. Pleading insanity can be a strong legal defense for some defendants that suffer from mental disorders, and the state of Pennsylvania and the federal government do not punish these people the same way that a normally sane person would be punished.

The Majority of those in the U.S. Prison and Jail Population have a Mental Health Disorder

It is well documented that those who commit crimes have a high likelihood of having a mental disorder. The U.S. Department of Justice has found that the majority of inmates have mental health problems. In fact, the Department estimates that 56 percent of state prisoners, 45 percent of federal prisoners, and 64 percent of jail inmates have at least one mental health problem. However, simply having a mental health disorder like schizophrenia, depression, multiple personality disorder, or bipolar is not enough evidence alone that the defendant committed the crime while being legally insane.

Pennsylvania Definition of Legal Insanity

According to Pennsylvania statute 315, the mental condition of a defendant can only be a defense when the “actor proves by a preponderance of evidence that the actor was legally insane at the time of the commission of the offense.” Being legally insane in Pennsylvania means that at the time of the offense “the actor was laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing.” One can also be found legally insane if the defendant did know the quality of the act but they did “not know that what he was doing was wrong.” Proving that a defendant was legally insane at the time of the crime can be a serious challenge to even the most well-prepared and seasoned defense attorney. It will be necessary to make use of psychiatrists as expert witnesses as well as testimony from friends, family, neighbors, and personal therapists and psychiatrists.

Penalties for the Legally Insane

The criminal punishment that a legally insane defendant receives depends on the severity of the crime they committed. For lesser offenses, the defendant may be let go without any further detainment. For more serious offenses, such as homicide, the defendant may be transferred to a state mental hospital for a specified period of time.

Call Our Philadelphia Criminal Attorneys Today

Pleading insanity may be an option for those with or without a history of mental health disorders. We urge you to call van der Veen, Hartshorn, Levin & Lindheim in Philadelphia today for unmatched legal defense and for the best chance of having your or your loved one set free, for the sentence to be reduced, or the charges dropped.


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