Insanity Defense in New Jersey Murder Trials
High-profile murder trials in which the defendant pleads insanity as a defense get a lot of media attention, but they are hardly the norm. In fact, despite public perceptions to the contrary, insanity as a defense is used only in about one percent of court cases, and of those, only a fraction are successful. The most recent example is the failed attempt by Eddie Ray Routh, killer of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield. In that case it took the jury only two hours to reject Routh’s claim that he was insane at the time of the murders. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The Basics of an Insanity Defense
An insanity defense is a claim that the individual who committed an act cannot be held criminally responsible for their conduct because at the time of commission, he or she was operating under an extreme defect of reason from disease of the mind, such that he did not know the nature of what he was doing, or if he did, he did not know that it was wrong.
There is a very high standard of mental disease to qualify for an insanity defense. Eddie Ray Routh, for example, had a documented history of mental illness. Despite this fact, it was the many statements he made after the killing that convinced the jury that he understood what he did was wrong.
The insanity defense is designed to keep a moral check on the American justice system so that individuals that are truly incapable of understanding or appreciating the wrongfulness or consequences of their actions are not punished. In many states, including New Jersey and Pennsylvania, insanity is an affirmative defense, meaning the defendant must prove, by preponderance of evidence, that he was insane at the time of the act. The defendant may be committed for a period of time while a court-appointed psychiatrist or psychologist examines his or her mental condition and capacity to stand trial.
A claim of not guilty by reason of insanity is not the same as being declared incompetent to stand trial. The former refers to the defendant’s state of mind at the time the act was committed; the latter refers to the defendant’s mental health at the time of trial. If a defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, the trial may be delayed until the person is given clearance by a certified mental health professional.
If acquitted, a person may be released if the court deems that he or she is not a danger to themselves or to others. This rarely happens. In almost all cases, persons found not guilty by reason of insanity are committed by the court to psychiatric treatment facilities. Studies show that these individuals may spend as much time, and often more time, in these institutions than they would have if they had been sentenced to jail for the same crime.
Cherry Hill Criminal Lawyer, Jill R. Cohen: Committed to Protecting the Rights of Those Charged with Crimes in New Jersey
If you have been formally charged with a crime in New Jersey, you need a criminal defense attorney on your side who will make your best interests their first priority. Cherry Hill criminal lawyer, Jill R. Cohen, is dedicated to putting her extensive experience to work for clients formally charged with murder or any other type of criminal charges in New Jersey. For your free consultation, call or submit an online contact form.
Camden County Criminal Law Firm of Jill R. Cohen is located in Westmont, New Jersey to conveniently serve clients in Westmont, Haddonfield and Cherry Hill as well as those in Camden City, Camden County, Gloucester County, Atlantic County, Salem County, Burlington County, Cumberland County and Mercer County.