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Not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity criminal pleas

Connecticut residents may have heard that a forensic psychiatrist recently made some observations on the insanity defense, also called Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity or NGRI. Controversial criminals who have tried to use the NGRI defense often receive extensive media coverage, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Wayne Gacy and the recent shooter in Aurora, Colorado, James Holmes. A person who is found NGRI will be confined to a state hospital and may not be released for years. In fact, an NGRI plea might mean a life sentence.

In criminal defense, less than one percent of cases use an NGRI argument and less than 25 percent of these succeed. The defendant must fall into one of two categories in order for an NGRI defense to work. One consideration is their inability to differentiate right from wrong due to brain damage or intellectual impairment. The other factor is a mental disorder that occurred when the person committed the crime that prevented normal, rational responses, different from so-called temporary insanity.

For example, a paranoid person may think everyone is watching or following him and might randomly shoot someone in a public place. The psychiatrist elaborated on the case of a father who stabbed his six-year-old daughter to death because he thought that Satan ordered him to do it. He thought his daughter was a child of the devil. When the defendant was reexamined months later, the defendant still believed he made the right choice. After the courts agreed he was NGRI, he was sent to a state mental facility where he still lives almost 30 years later.

While movies and television might have popularized NGRI pleas, statistics show that they rarely work in court. A criminal defense attorney might be able to argue other mitigating factors more effectively than trying to use an NGRI defense.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Crimes, Criminals, and the Insanity Defense," Mark Rubinstein, March 29, 2013

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