Being convicted of a criminal charge carries significant consequences such as imprisonment, payment of fines, restriction of certain rights, and in some states, death. Florida is among the states that have retained the death penalty. In these states, the options of an accused are often limited between a guilty plea and an insanity defense.
The Parkland shooting case demonstrates the relevance of the insanity defense. Early on, accused gunman Nikolas Cruz expressed his desire to plead guilty and accept a life sentence to evade the death penalty. His plea bargain was, however, rejected by the prosecution. Cruz’s alternative is a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
What exactly is the insanity defense? How does it affect the prosecution of an accused who claims to be insane? Moreover, what is the effect if the accused is found guilty by insanity?
The Insanity Defense In Florida
The insanity defense is an affirmative defense where the accused claims to be insane at the time he committed the crime. Claiming insanity entails an admission of committing the crime but without understanding its impact. It is a way of asserting one’s innocence.
Invoking insanity as a defense is rare. Research on insanity jurisprudence reported that less than 1% of defendants raise the insanity defense and only a fraction are successful. The difficulty of successfully claiming insanity may be because of the standards imposed by law.
Insanity is defined in law. Under the law of Florida, a person is deemed legally insane if the following exist at the time of the commission of the crime:
- The defendant was suffering from some mental defect or disease;
- By reason of such mental infirmity, the defendant was not aware of his actions and its consequences; or
- The defendant did not know his actions were wrong.
- Moreover, a testimony of a medical expert is persuasive in determining the issue of insanity.
The State of Florida law provides that every person is presumed to be sane. The defendant then has the burden of proving insanity by clear and convincing evidence. For evidence to be clear and convincing, it must be accurate, explicit, and clear in such a way that it produces a firm belief in the issue being proved.
The Consequence of Guilty by Insanity Claim
Florida law requires a bifurcated trial in insanity defenses. This means that the proceedings will have two stages:
- The court must decide on the guilt of the defendant
- If found guilty, the trial will proceed to assess the validity of the defendant’s claim of insanity.
If the accused is acquitted by reason of insanity after the trial, he will be committed to a mental institution or program to receive the proper treatment. The period of admittance may last longer than the prescribed jail time for the crime committed.
An Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help with Your Insanity Defense
No criminal case is similar. Every case has its own facts and nuances. If you or a loved one is charged with a criminal case, it is best to contact a criminal defense lawyer. Knowledgeable of State of Florida laws, Piotrowski Law will be able to give you educated advice and explain the available defenses. Our phone number is 305-204-5000, give us a call today for a free, no-obligation consultation.