You may be familiar with the insanity defense for those charged with a serious crime like murder, rape, robbery and other crimes that carry the death penalty, but you may not understand how it works. A defendant may be found not guilty by reason of insanity for serious crimes. However, what the outcome of such a ruling is that the Defendant is not insane. An insanity defense does not claim that a defendant is innocent, but rather that they did commit the criminal act, but are not legally culpable (viable) for their conduct because of their poor mental health.
Mississippi’s rules of criminal procedure are very clear that a person’s competency to stand trial is completely separate from whether a person was sane at the time of an alleged defense. Both competency and sanity require that there be a mental evaluation of the defendant. But whereas a competency evaluation determines whether the client understands the nature and seriousness of the crime, a sanity evaluation goes much deeper. It is at the sanity evaluation stage that an inexperienced lawyer fails to consider.
The biggest problem with asserting insanity, and therefore having a sanity evaluation, is that to assert the defense, a defendant and his lawyer are effectively admitting that the person committed the crime, but that the defendant suffered from such a mental disorder that they could not understand the gravity of their actions or the consequences. Not only that, but when the person goes for their mental evaluation, they must reveal all of the details of the underlying crime, and that information must be turned over to the prosecution if the lawyer continues to assert insanity as his client’s defense.