The Brian David Mitchell Trial and the Insanity Defense

Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers

The trial of Brian David Mitchell for kidnapping and other crimes involving Elizabeth Smart has ended with a guilty verdict from the jury. According to his Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers, Mitchell expected to be convicted and has placed his fate in God’s hands. Mitchell will be sentenced on May 25, 2011. Elizabeth Smart will likely testify in the sentencing hearing.

Throughout this highly publicized trial, Mitchell has acted in strange and confusing ways and his defense team has routinely raised the issue of insanity. A federal court found Mitchell to be legally insane and ordered him accordingly. However, now in the state court, the jury found him legally sane and gave its verdict of guilty. For many, this trial has raised quesitions about the insanity defense and under what circumstances is it viable. Is someone legally insane because they sing in the courtroom and recite religious scripture to the judge? What is the standard? This blog briefly examines the insanity defense and answers the most fundamental and common questions we often hear about insanity and criminal charges.

How does the legal system determine if you are legally insane?

The insanity defense typically means that someone should not be found guilty of a crime because they lacked the mental capacity to realize that they committed a wrong. Some states allow defendants to argue that they knew what they were doing was wrong, but they were not able to control their actions. This standard is often referred to as the “irresistible impulse theory.”

Not all states have the same standards for determining insanity in the criminal courts. Some states have abolished the use of the insanity defense and the Supreme Court has upheld such actions. Other states have amended their laws to provide for a “diminished capacity” defense or a “guilty but mentally ill” defense. Still others use something akin to the M’Naghten rule which defines the defense as “guilty but not criminally responsible by reason of insanity.”

Are insanity defenses successful in most cases?

Proving insanity carries a high burden, therefore, the majority of cases in which a defendant has raised the issue of insanity are unsuccessful. A recent study shows that only about 1 percent of all individuals charged with a crime plead insanity while of that 1 percent, only about 1/4 of them won acquittals. Despite these facts, the insanity defense continues to be very controversial with many people advocating for its dismissal all together.

Many have speculated that the reason the insanity defense is so controversial, is because trials that include the insanity defense as an issues are often highly published and are bizarre within them self. This is certainly true in the case of Brian David Mitchell.

A common misconception by the public is that individuals who are acquitted based on an insanity defense walk free. In reality, this is almost never the case. In almost every case, a verdict of not guilty because of insanity will result in the defendant being placed in a mental health facility until officials determine the individual no longer is a threat to society. For many defendants, this amounts to a life sentence.

More Information – Call Salcido Law Firm 801.618.1334

Some individuals are genuinely insane. Such individuals still have rights and deserve competent legal counsel, despite the potentially heinous nature of their actions. For more information on the insanity defense in Utah, speak with a Utah Criminal Defense Lawyer at Salcido Law Firm today. We offer experienced legal counsel for those accused of crimes in Salt Lake City, Provo, and the Ogden areas.