Due to a few high profile cases, most people are at least somewhat aware of the basics of the insanity defence. In general, the insanity defence refers to a plea that the defendant is not criminally responsible because they lacked the mental clarity or capacity to realize they committed a criminal act. Due to a number of factors, most people harbor misconceptions about the insanity defence.
Here are some of the more common of these myths and misconceptions.
1. People overuse the insanity defence.
Many people believe that the insanity defence is overused in Canadian law and justice. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In actuality, the plea rate in Canada is less than 1% and only about a quarter of insanity defendants are actually successful, according to Statistics Canada. People may perceive the insanity defence to be overused because the media covers a disproportional number of cases involving the insanity defence.
2. Defendants who use the insanity defence are faking in most cases.
While there are certainly some instances in which a defendant has faked insanity in order to use the insanity defence, it is likely that the vast majority of defendants who use the insanity defence are legitimately lacking in mental capacity. The reality is that the vast majority of insanity defendants are diagnosed during psychiatric evaluation with a mental disorder. Many insanity defendants have experienced at least one mental hospitalization prior to the crime.
3. Defence attorneys plead insanity just to win a case.
A common misbelief is that defence attorneys lie and have their clients plead insanity just to win the case. However, the truth is that the concordance rate between court decisions and the opinions of professional psychiatrists is 93%.
4. The insanity defence is only applicable to violent crimes.
The cases involving the insanity defence that are covered the most by media involve violence. However, this in no way means that the insanity defence is exclusively used for violent crimes. In fact, about one-third of all insanity defendants were on trial for non-violent offenses
5. Criminals are found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Before, individuals could be found guilty by reason of insanity in Canadian court cases. Now, an individual can be deemed not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder, according to the Department of Justice Canada. While being deemed not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder does not mean immediate acquittal, it does give the individual an opportunity to receive mental illness treatment. It also contributes to the objective of treating the offender with dignity.
6. Trials involving the insanity defence always involve a battle between experts.
In reality, it is more common for experts to agree rather than to disagree when it comes to the insanity defence. In about four-fifths of examined cases, the mental health examiners involved agreed with each other on the primary diagnosis.
When does the insanity defence work?
In general, the insanity defence works best in cases in which the defendant had little control over their behavior because lack of mental capacity hindered them from being able to act according to behavior standards deemed acceptable by society, individuals who have been diagnosed with a serious mental disorder, or have been hospitalized in the past due to mental illness.