Could I Be Found Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity If I am Mentally Ill?


Michigan criminal defense attorneysMental Illness, by itself, does not excuse the commission of a criminal offense. In Michigan, it is an affirmative defense to a prosecution for a criminal offense only if the defendant meets the definition of being legally insane when he or she committed the acts constituting the offense. See MCL 768.21a.

Having a mental illness or an intellectual disability alone does not meet the legal definition of insanity. There are two ways in which a person can be considered legally insane:

  1. As a result of mental illness or intellectual disability, the person lacks substantial capacity to appreciate the nature and quality or the wrongfulness of his or her conduct; or
  2. As a result of mental illness or intellectual disability, the person lacks substantial capacity to conform his or her conduct to the requirements of the law.  

Those standards are incredibly difficult to meet. A finding by a judge or a jury that a defendant meets the legal definition of insanity such that they are not criminally responsible for their conduct is exceedingly rare.

In Michigan, in a criminal case where insanity is intended to be used as a defense to the criminal charges, the attorney for the defendant will file a notice with the court that they intend to assert the defense of insanity, and will provide a copy to the prosecuting attorney. This must be done not less than 30 days prior to the scheduled date of the trial.

Once the court receives notice that the defense intends to assert the affirmative defense of insanity, the Court is required to order that the defendant undergo an examination relating the the claim of insanity by the personnel at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry. This examination must take place within 60 days of the judge entering the order for the examination.

The defendant also has a right to an independent psychiatric evaluation by the clinician of his or her choice, at their own expense. However, if the defendant is indigent (without funds), then the court must provide them with a reasonable fee to hire an independent psychiatric examiner. In the event that a defendant is asserting a defense of insanity, it is important that they undergo an evaluation by an independent psychiatric examiner. This should be done by a forensic psychiatrist or a forensic psychologist. The examiners at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry are employed by the government, and tend to lean toward findings that are helpful to the prosecuting attorney, rather than being independent.

It is important that the independent psychiatric examiner have access to evaluate the defendant as soon as possible following the event that led to criminal charges. Many times, the psychosis that may have led a defendant to commit an act doesn’t last for a long period of time. The sooner a forensic psychiatrist or psychologist can evaluate a defendant following the event, the better able they will be to make a determination about criminal responsibility.

In addition to the defendant’s right to an independent examination, the prosecuting attorney may similarly obtain an independent psychiatric evaluation, at the expense of the prosecuting attorney. Because the Center for Forensic Psychiatry tends to work closely with the prosecuting attorney, it is rare to see the prosecuting attorney exercise their right to the independent psychiatric evaluation. However, in the event that the Center for Forensic Psychiatry were to find during their evaluation that the defendant was legally insane, it is highly likely that the prosecuting attorney would then exercise their right to an independent evaluation.

Ultimately, a finding by a jury or a judge that a defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity will result in the defendant being placed with the Center for Forensic Psychiatry for treatment. The defendant won’t simply walk out of court a free person. There are likely many years of treatment ahead before a defendant would have an opportunity to be released back into society. However, the conditions at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry are significantly better than being placed in prison.

Blanchard Law’s attorneys are experienced in handling cases where legal insanity is at issue. If you or a loved one have a case where you believe mental illness or intellectual disability may have contributed to the commission of a criminal offense, contact one of our Michigan criminal defense attorneys today.

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