Mentally Ill or Insanity Defense: Definitions and How It’s Used in Criminal Cases

More and more we have been reading and seeing stories of people who are considered mentally ill and committing criminal acts that they are not held responsible for at trial.

Most people don’t have an understanding of what a mentally ill defense means and what it takes to have the courts in Nevada accept that as a defense. Defense attorneys use many strategies to defend their clients, the insanity defense is never used lightly because it is very hard to prove in a court of law.

A lot of people hear about Serial Killers, for example, and instantly assume that they are mentally ill, because what else could explain their actions, right? However, being mentally ill by medical or society’s standards is completely different than being mentally ill in a court of law.

Only experienced defense attorneys attempt to use this defense in the most extreme cases.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges, it is crucial to have a skilled attorney by your side. You need someone who possesses extensive experience in defending clients across a wide range of cases and degrees.

The Defenders is an experienced criminal defense firm that has helped countless clients to have their charges reduced or even dropped. Our attorneys are highly knowledgeable and skilled in all areas of criminal law.

We understand that every case is unique and requires a personalized approach. That’s why we work closely with each client to thoroughly investigate the circumstances surrounding the charges and build a strong defense strategy tailored to their specific needs.

Contact our team for a free case evaluation today.

What Is the Insanity Defense

Legal insanity is considered a complete defense in Nevada. Most defense strategies are pieced from one defense or another.

A complete defense means that if a defendant uses the insanity defense and the jury finds that they were insane or intoxicated at the time of the crime, they will be acquitted of the crime.

The M’Naghten Rule: In order to determine the insanity of a defendant the Nevada Courts follow the M’Naghten rule.

Insanity under the M’Naghten rule is when a defendant was in a delusional state at the time of the alleged offense due to disease or defect of the mind that prevented the defendant from either:

  • Knowingly or understanding the nature and capacity of their act; or
  • Appreciating that their conduct was illegal

The standard for an insanity defense is very narrow in the Nevada courts.

Delusional beliefs can be considered as a form of insanity, but only if the delusion, if true, would justify the commission of a crime.

For example, if you believe that someone is actually attempting to kill you while in their presence and you kill them thinking you are defending yourself. At trial, you may be acquitted because your delusion was real at the time of the offense.

If on the other hand, you believed that same person was going to kill you at a later date and went to track them down and kill them first, you may be convicted of murder because the delusion wasn’t actually happening at the time and you went and acted first. You should have instead contacted the police about your suspected threat.

What Is the Procedure to Raise the Insanity Defense?

A defendant attempting to use the insanity defense may either:

  • Plead not guilty by reason of insanity no less than 21 days from the trial date; or,
  • Claim he/she is not guilty by reason of insanity at the trial

When a case goes to trial and a defendant attempts to use the insanity defense, the judge will instruct the jury to consider the insanity defense only if the evidence presented during trial includes that the delusion, if true, would justify the crime.

The jury may acquit the defendant of the crime based on the insanity defense if the evidence proves that the defendant was insane at the time of the crime by a “preponderance of the evidence”, meaning more likely than not.

If a defendant is acquitted of a crime based on the insanity defense it does not mean they walk away free and clear.

A judge may order the defendant to a mental health evaluation or place them in a mental health facility until further notice or there is no longer any clear mental illness.

Pleading Guilty But Mentally Ill

There are a few states where pleading guilty but mentally ill exists as a defense.

However, this is essentially the same as pleading guilty; the only difference is that the defendant may receive mental health treatment while serving their criminal penalties.

Defense attorneys only recommend this defense when being found innocent of a crime based on the insanity defense is slim.

The only advantage of pleading guilty but mentally ill is that it may appear better on a criminal record, suggesting the defendant didn’t commit the crime on purpose and had since received treatment for their illness.

This may help at a future parole hearing.

If your defense team intends to utilize the defense of guilty but mentally ill, it must be submitted to the court at least 21 days prior to the commencement of the trial, assuming a trial is still taking place given your guilty plea.

It is up to the defense to prove the defendant was mentally ill at the time of the crime even if guilty by the preponderance of the evidence, or most likely to have been.

Intoxication Defense in Nevada

In Nevada, particularly in Las Vegas, intoxication is a prevalent phenomenon. With tourists flocking to this 24-hour city and the allure of gambling, it’s not uncommon for individuals to overindulge, leading to various incidents, particularly DUIs.

But what happens when a crime is committed while you’re high or drunk during a night out?

Your responsibility for your actions may be influenced by the nature of your intoxication, whether it was voluntary or involuntary.

Involuntary intoxication

You may think how can someone be involuntarily intoxicated?

One common example is when someone has their drink spiked with a drug, which unfortunately happens quite frequently.

Another is if the person was taking medication that they had an adverse reaction to.

Involuntary intoxication is treated just like the insanity defense.

The defense must show based on the preponderance of the evidence that the defendant was involuntarily intoxicated at the time of the crime and that the intoxication was so severe that they would not know what they were doing or that they were committing actions that were wrong, the jury might acquit theme of the crime.

Voluntary Intoxication

This is just like what it sounds like —when you take drugs or alcohol and end up getting drunk or high as result of your behavior. There are very few circumstances where voluntary intoxication can be used as a defense since it was your choice to use drugs and alcohol.

Voluntary intoxication can only be used as a defense in specific intent criminal acts such as:

General intent crimes are a different category of crimes that are hard to understand. General intent crimes such as:

These are crimes in Nevada where the voluntary intoxication defense cannot be used.

The intoxication defense is not used unless it is an extreme case.

So asking a judge or jury to acknowledge you were buzzed or hungover at the time of the offense won’t work.

Facing Criminal Charges? The Defenders Can Help

If you have been arrested for a  crime, you need help now.

What you do today can affect your entire future.

You need to speak with an experienced defense team to decide the next course of action.

The Defenders use a variety of defense strategies to help our clients fight criminal charges.

Mounting a defense against the charges against you is our main goal.

If youare facing any criminal charges, contact The Defenders today for a free consultation. Our team of skilled attorneys will review your case and provide you with legal advice and representation to help achieve the best possible outcome for your situation.

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