List of Pros and Cons of Insanity Defense

In the criminal justice systems of the world, there are more plea options than a generic “guilty” or “not guilty.” One option is “not guilty by reason of insanity.” An insanity defense claims that a defendant was not mentally capable of understanding their actions were a crime at the time the crime was committed.

Here are the key pros and cons of an insanity defense.

List of the Pros of an Insanity Defense

1. It creates an assumption of guilt.
Although the plea under an insanity defense is technically “not guilty,” it acknowledges personal responsibility for the crime. If the insanity defense fails, then there is little room for any other type of defense to be successful.

2. It reduces the chances of a capital conviction.
Even if the insanity defense is rejected, the possibility of a defendant not being in their “right” state of mind is enough to remove capital sentencing from the equation. Judges may be less likely to reduce a sentence than a jury, so it depends upon who is responsible for the capital punishment decision.

3. It can lead to rehabilitation or mental health treatment.
If the insanity defense is successful, then the emphasis of the criminal justice system focuses on treating the individual. Instead of confinement, rehabilitation becomes the priority. Individuals can be sentenced to a minimum amount of time in a rehabilitation institution in some jurisdictions as well.

List of the Cons of an Insanity Defense

1. It increases the cost of a trial.
Defendants that use the insanity defense in the United States compose about 1% of all court cases heard each year. About 1 in every 4 cases is successful. The cost to hire specialists, write reports, and evaluate the health of the defendant drives the costs of a trial much higher than they would be otherwise.

2. It can be difficult to prove.
The determination of insanity is often left to a judge or a jury. Both parties in the case often provide testimony from experts that support their side of the case.

3. It eliminates other forms of defense.
Once the insanity defense is started, no other defense can be utilized. A requirement of the insanity defense is acknowledgement of personal involvement. The conversation then shifts to the awareness of responsibility.

These insanity defense pros and cons show why few defendants attempt this type of defense. It is reserved for those who were truly incapacitated at the time a crime was committed.