What makes a valid insanity defense in the state of Florida?

While this is a fact that surprises many, not every state uses the same standard when courts determine whether or not someone was legally insane when he or she committed a crime. In Florida, the courts use what is commonly referred to as “the M’Naghten Test” to make the decision.

In essence, in order to meet the M’Naghten Test, which is one of the oldest standards used in the law, a defendant must be unable to understand the difference between right and wrong because of his or her mental condition. It’s also up to the defendant to provide that proof.

Generally, this criteria can be somewhat hard to meet:

  • There has to be some evidence that the defendant suffers from a mental condition either currently or when the crime was committed.
  • The defendant can’t take any action that would indicate he or she realized that what he or she did was criminal in nature — like trying to hide the evidence, fleeing the scene, washing up or denying what he or she did.

For example, imagine a man attacks his brother with a baseball bat. He later claims that he was hearing voices that told him his brother was actually a devil sent to destroy their whole family, which made him believe he had to kill his brother to save himself and the rest of his family.

However, before attacking his brother, he waited until no one else was at home so that he wasn’t witnessed in action. He also took off all his clothing and tried to burn the clothes and bat in a fire pit in his backyard to hide the evidence. That sort of thing would likely cast severe doubt on an insanity claim — if he sincerely believed his brother was a devil, then he would have felt justified in his actions, not compelled to hide them.

It’s also important to understand that insanity defenses are not immediate tickets to freedom after a violent crime. People declared not guilty due to a successful insanity defense are generally sent to a mental institution until doctors can determine that they are no longer dangerous to themselves or others.

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