criminal defense

Can You Claim Insanity as a Defense to a Criminal Conviction?

By Joel Hancock

When someone has been accused of committing a crime, we often think of a defense as evidence that the person could not have or did not commit it. However, sometimes a defense to a criminal conviction is not that the defendant didn’t commit the act, but rather that he or she cannot be held morally to blame due to a mental disease or defect that he or she was suffering at the time. This is known as the insanity defense. 

The insanity defense exists in order to ensure that our legal system remains fair for all people and does what it was intended to do. This affirmative defense is not commonly used, as it requires a higher level of proof. Additionally, someone can be found to be medically insane and still not be found legally insane. They are not the same thing.

Not the Same as Innocence

It’s important to differentiate not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect (the insanity defense) from innocent. Finding someone not guilty does not mean that they are being found innocent. If someone is found not guilty by insanity, they don’t get to go home. Rather, they will be committed to a mental health facility where they will remain for the same period of time as they would have had they been imprisoned. They must be able to prove that they no longer suffer from such a mental disease or defect and therefore are no longer a danger to society in order to be released. 

So How Does the Court Determine Insanity?

While this may sound black and white, it’s not quite so simple. In order to determine whether or not a defendant was insane at the time of a criminal act, the state of North Carolina follows what is known as the M’Naghten Rule. The rule, which was named for the case in which the defense originated, has two parts that must be considered in determining the defendant’s state at the time of the crime:

  1. Whether the accused had knowledge of the act that he or she was committing; and
  2. Whether the accused knew that his or her actions were wrong. 

In other words, the defendant must be able to prove by a preponderance of the evidence (that it is more likely than not), that he or she suffered from a mental disease or defect at the time that the crime was committed. (The prosecution must meet a stricter standard of proof: beyond a reasonable doubt.) 

Contact Our Carteret County Criminal Defense Attorney Today

A criminal conviction in North Carolina can have a very long-lasting impact on your life. Not only can it affect your ability to obtain or keep certain jobs, but also it can have a permanent impact on your reputation. Additionally, the insanity defense in North Carolina can be quite complex. That’s why it is in your best interest to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. 

At Hancock Law Firm, PLLC, we fully understand what is at stake and will do everything that we can to help you fight these charges and obtain the best possible outcome for you. To learn more or to schedule a free consultation, contact us today!

About the Author
Joel Hancock is a native of Carteret County, NC. He devotes 100% of his practice to defending those accused of traffic infractions, DWI, misdemeanors, and felonies in Carteret County, NC.