The Insanity Defense

The insanity defense has an infamous reputation among the American public. Many Americans have a preconception that the insanity defense can easily acquit offenders of a crime. However, this is far from the case. Insanity as a defense is rarely admissible and can be very difficult to present to a jury.

The burden for proving insanity is placed on the defense. It can be a complex process to prove insanity in front of a jury, especially if the crime is violent in nature. A defendant will need a skilled attorney on their side to file motions for psychological evaluations, call upon expert testimony, and prove the elements for insanity. If you or someone you know has been accused of a crime and wishes to use the insanity defense, it’s vital that you gain legal representation.

Attorneys for the Insanity Defense in Bexar County, Texas

Using insanity as a defense is one of the hardest to prove admissible in court. It is widely misunderstood among the common man but can be essential to those who lacked criminal intent in their crimes. Hiring an attorney can significantly increase your chances of proving insanity in a criminal trial.

The attorneys at Goldstein, Goldstein, Hilley & Orr have a passion for criminal defense. We want to preserve your rights and advocate for your mental health in the courtroom. Our attorneys have used all sorts of legal defenses for clients over decades of practice. Gain a legal partner in this process with Goldstein, Goldstein, Hilley & Orr.

Goldstein, Goldstein, Hilley & Orr accepts clients throughout the greater San Antonio area such as Castle Hills, Hollywood Park, Inwood, and Downtown San Antonio.

Call now for a free consultation at (210) 226-1463.

Overview of the Insanity Defense in Texas


Elements of the Insanity Defense under Texas Law

In some cases where intent is clearly lacking, the defendant may be able to rise the insanity defense. The Texas Penal Code § 8.01 states it is in affirmative defense to the prosecution that:

  • During the commission of the offense, the alleged offender did not know his or her conduct was wrong due to severe mental disease or defect;
  • The mental disease or defect cannot include an abnormality manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.

It is important to note that the defendant must prove that he or she was unaware that their conduct was wrong. Consequently, this means a person can have a mental defect but still be considered guilty if he or she is still aware of right versus wrong. Mere mental deficiency or derangement is not enough to excuse a person from a crime.


The M’Naghten and Irresistible Impulse Test

Typically, Texas will use the M’Naghten test to determine whether an alleged offender is sane or not at the time of the offense. The M’Naghten defense originates from a case in 1843, when Daniel M’Naghten murdered Edward Drummond because he mistook the man for the British Prime Minister, Robert Peel. M’Naghten was found not guilty by reason of insanity after many court proceedings.

The test focuses on whether the alleged offender knew the natures of their crimes and understood the difference between right and wrong during the offense. For Texas, it is essential that the offender prove the latter of the M’Naghten to be able to use the insanity defense.

If the offender did understand the moral ramifications of their crime, he or she may call upon the Irresistible Impulse Test. The Irresistible Impulse Test expands the legal definition for insanity in Texas courts. The test measures not only if the alleged offender knew the difference between right and wrong, but also whether he or she could control their impulses to commit the offense.

Both tests have had criticisms in the past. Some argue that the M’Naghten rule’s legal definition of insanity does not meet the medical definition of insanity. Additionally, the M’Naghten Test does not distinguish between temporary mental states and lifelong mental conditions. On the other hand, the Irresistible Impulse Test has been criticized for being too broad and creating opportunities for defendants to fake insanity.


Incompetency and Insanity in Court

If a person pleads insanity, Texas courts will assess if the alleged offender is competent to stand trial. It’s crucial to know that a person can be deemed incompetent to stand trial but can still be criminally convicted. Inversely, a person who successfully uses the insanity as a defense is acquitted from their charges.

Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 46B.003 states a person is presumed competent to stand trial unless he or she is proved incompetent by reasonable evidence that shows:

  • The alleged offender has the present ability to consult with their lawyer to a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or
  • The alleged offender has a rational and factual understanding of the charges against him or her.

If competency comes into question, the courts will appoint experts to evaluate the alleged offender’s psyche. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 46B.024 states the factors that appointed experts must consider when determining if a person is competent to stand trial or not.

  • The alleged offender’s capacity to:
    • Understand his or her criminal charges and their potential consequences;
    • Engage in a reasonable choice for legal options and strategies;
    • Understand the adversarial nature of court proceedings
    • Understand the disclosure to counsel pertinent events, facts, and states of mind;
    • Present themselves in an appropriate manner in court; and
    • Testify in front of a court.
  • Whether the alleged offender has:
    • A mental illness; or
    • Is a person with a type of mental retardation.
  • If the identified mental condition has lasted or is expected to last continuously for at least twelve months;
  • The degree of the mental impairment resulting from illness or mental retardation, and the impact that may have on the alleged offender’s ability to engage with counsel;
  • If the alleged offender is taking some sort of psychoactive or other medication for their mental condition and:
    • Whether the medication for the offender to remain competent; and
    • If the medication has an effect, if any, on the alleged offender’s demeanor, appearance, or ability to participate in court proceedings.

If the courts deem the alleged offender incompetent to stand trial, he or she will be committed to a mental hospital, residential facility, or in an outpatient treatment program. The offender cannot stay in the institution or program longer than the maximum term for the offense that is being tried. Unless the alleged offender has been tried with a misdemeanor, in which case the maximum period will be two years.

However, just because a person is considered incompetent does not mean they are not guilty. Once the offender’s competency has been reestablished, the case will move to criminal trial. He or she may still face statutory penalties for their crimes. This is different from a person who uses the insanity defense.

A person who successfully uses the insanity defense will be deemed not guilty by reason of insanity. Consequently, he or she will be acquitted of their crimes and will not be incarcerated.


What Happens if I’m Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity?

In cases where the insanity defense is successful, the defendant will be acquitted of all their charges. However, this does not mean a person will be freed into the general public. Texas Code of Criminal Procedure §46C.002 states the following proceedings if a person is acquitted by reasons of insanity:

  • He or she will be committed to a mental hospital, inpatient, residential care facility, or ordered outpatient or community-based treatment and supervision for a cumulative period; and
  • The period cannot exceed the maximum term provided by law for the offense of which the acquitted person was tried of; and
  • On expiration of that maximum term, the alleged offender may be still confined in their court-ordered treatment or program only under civil commitment proceedings.

In other words, the defendant will be committed for as long as they would have been incarcerated if sane. For example, if the crime was a second-degree felony then the acquitted person may be committed for up to twenty years.


Additional Resources

The Insanity Defense in Texas – Visit the official Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and find more information surrounding the insanity defense in Texas. Find more information on how a person is defined insane in court, the effects of being acquitted by insanity, and the credentials experts must have to testify in court.

Insanity Defense – Visit the official website for Cornell Law School and find more information about the insanity defense. Learn more regarding diminished capacity, how competency is measured, the M’Naghten rule, the Irresistible Impulse test, and other tests that measure sanity in the court of law used in the United States.


Insanity Defense Attorneys in San Antonio, Texas

If you or someone you know has been charged for a crime with a lack of awareness between right and wrong, you may be able to use the insanity defense in court. A skilled attorney can advocate for your mental state, bring in experts to testify, and file motions to evaluate your psyche for the court.

There is no reason for you to serve time for a crime that was out of your control. The attorneys at Goldstein, Goldstein, Hilley & Orr represent those using the insanity defense throughout the greater Bexar County, Texas area. We have represented clients for incredibly serious charges such as sexual assault, kidnapping or homicide. Let us guide you through this court process. Get in contact with the attorneys at Goldstein, Goldstein, Hilley & Orr.

Goldstein, Goldstein, Hilley & Orr accepts clients throughout the greater San Antonio area and nearby cities including Sandy Oaks, Live Oaks, Universal City, and Converse.

Call us now at (210) 226-1463 for a free consultation.


This article was last updated on November 7, 2018. 

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