03 Oct 23

Using the Insanity Defense in Your St. Petersburg Criminal Case

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Last Updated on: 3rd November 2023, 07:12 pm

Using the Insanity Defense in Your St. Petersburg Criminal Case

So you’re facing criminal charges in St. Petersburg, Florida and thinking about using the insanity defense? This defense can be complicated but also provide a path to treatment instead of prison if done right. Here’s an overview of how the insanity defense works and what you need to know to make your best case in court.

What is the Insanity Defense in Florida?

The insanity defense argues that at the time the crime was committed, the defendant was so mentally ill they didn’t understand what they were doing or that it was wrong[1].

In Florida, the insanity defense is an affirmative defense, meaning the defense has the burden of proving the defendant was insane by clear and convincing evidence[2]. This is a high bar to meet compared to most criminal defenses.

The legal standard for insanity in Florida is based on the M’Naghten rule and defined in Florida statute 775.027. There are two main parts:

  • The defendant had a mental infirmity, disease, or defect
  • Because of this condition, the defendant:
    • Did not know what he or she was doing or its consequences
    • Did not understand what he or she was doing was wrong[3]

Mental illness alone does not qualify as insanity under this statute. The defense must show the defendant’s ability to understand their actions or right from wrong was actually impaired due to their condition.

When Can the Insanity Defense Be Used?

The insanity defense applies to any criminal charge in Florida, from misdemeanors to capital felonies. However, it can be especially relevant for more serious charges where long prison sentences are likely if convicted.

Defendants may want to avoid prison and receive mental health treatment instead. The insanity defense does not result in an acquittal – the defendant is found “not guilty by reason of insanity” and usually committed to a mental institution[4].

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The defense is used in only about 1% of felony cases and is rarely successful[5]. But it can work in the right circumstances when properly supported.

How Do You Prove Insanity in Florida?

Meeting the high “clear and convincing evidence” standard for an insanity defense takes thorough preparation and evidence. Key items the defense must prove include:

1. The Defendant Had a Serious Mental Illness

  • Obtain copies of all medical records showing diagnosis and treatment of mental illness
  • Have psychiatrists and psychologists examine the defendant and testify about their mental state
  • Present testimony from friends, family, coworkers about defendant’s mental health history

2. The Illness Impaired the Defendant’s Ability to Understand Their Actions

  • Focus on the defendant’s capacity to understand their conduct or know right from wrong at the time of the offense
  • Expert testimony is crucial but lay witnesses can also provide evidence
  • Records of strange behavior, delusions, paranoia, etc. around time of crime helpful

3. The Defendant’s Actions Resulted from Their Illness

  • Show a direct link between the mental illness symptoms and conduct constituting the crime
  • Expert should explain how disease affected reasoning and behavior
  • Evidence of defendant’s behavior during and after crime consistent with mental illness

When Must Notice of the Insanity Defense Be Given?

In Florida, defendants must file a notice of intent to rely on the insanity defense no later than 15 days after their arraignment[2]. The notice must include names of witnesses who will testify about the defendant’s mental state and details about the nature of the claimed insanity.

If the defense later decides against using the insanity defense, they can withdraw the notice. But it must be done in a timely manner to avoid prejudicing the prosecution.

What Happens After an Insanity Finding?

If found not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant is usually committed to a secure mental health facility. How long they remain committed depends on evaluations of the defendant’s ongoing dangerousness and need for treatment.

Many insanity acquittees spend as much or more time confined in a hospital as they would have in prison if convicted. Release requires approval from the court upon doctors’ recommendations. Outpatient treatment, substance abuse counseling, and other supports may be required as conditions of release.

While the insanity defense is complex, proper preparation and evidence makes it possible in the right cases. An experienced St. Petersburg criminal defense attorney can advise if it may apply to your situation and build the strongest argument for your innocence due to insanity.