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Houston, TX Insanity Defense Lawyer

There are times when a crime is committed under unique circumstances that cause society to intervene for the purpose of justice. Affirmative defenses have been established for the defendant to use when such a commission of a crime warrants the defense. For instance, if a person is insane, and due to that mental defect, is unaware that—for instance—stealing something from a store or assaulting someone on the street is wrong, then that person can be found not guilty by reason of insanity. This means that the defendant is not legally responsible for the crime because of his or her mental state at the time of the offense.

Of all the affirmative defenses, there is none more controversial than insanity. Your Board Certified criminal defense lawyer will review your case and discuss with you this option, if applicable.

Insanity as an Affirmative Defense in Texas

Insanity as an affirmative defense in Texas is not used as widely as the public assumes. In fact, it is used only in rare circumstances. But when it is used, it can be an effective defense for the defendant, but it may also come at a price to the defendant.

What Is the Insanity Defense?

According to Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 46C, insanity is a defense. In Texas, at the time of the offense, the defendant must have had a mental disease or mental defect that caused the defendant not to know that his or her conduct was wrong.

The standard for this defense is very strict. In fact, a medical doctor can deem you clinically insane, but legally, you can still be deemed sane. Further, if a defendant were successful and found not guilty by reason of insanity, the defendant would not be free but would be sent to a State mental hospital, the time of which is not to exceed the maximum amount of incarceration a guilty verdict for the offense would have rendered. To determine insanity, the State of Texas employs the M'Naghten Rule but had at one time also employed the irresistible impulse Test.

M'Naghten Rule

The M'Naghten Rule has endured since 1843. It's an English case that found Daniel M'Naghten not guilty by reason of insanity of shooting and killing the secretary of the British Prime Minister. The test involves two components. In the first component, the defendant's knowledge of what he or she was committing is analyzed. The second component determines if the defendant knew his or her actions were wrong. So, did the defendant know what he or she was doing, and did he or she know it was wrong? This rule focuses solely on cognitive abilities.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals clarified this rule in Rubio v. State, 241 S.W.3d (Tex. Crim. App. 2007) and added that the defendant must prove he or she had or was in an

extreme delusional state[] that caused [him or her] to misperceive the very nature of [his or her] acts, or to believe that in acting, [he or she was] obeying rather than violating the laws of society.

Thus, a determination can be made regarding knowledge of what he or she was doing and if it was wrong, but it must be concluded with sound evidence of a mental disease or defect.

Irresistible Impulse Test

Tex. Pen. Code § 8.01 requires a defendant to prove he or she did not "know" the act was illegal. Because this cognitive aspect taken from the M'Naghten rule has been codified, the irresistible impulse test is all but not available in Texas by defendants who might have otherwise benefited from it, like Andrea Yates, who killed her children by drowning them and then called the police afterward. Almost no one would say she was sane, and indeed the facts suggested the same, but because she called the police, that act signaled she knew right from wrong, thus, she was denied an acquittal for insanity.

The irresistible impulse test considers whether, by mental disease or defect, a defendant is incapable of self-control, and due to this insufficient self-control, committed the offense. Insufficient self-control induced by a mental disease or defect, however, is not robustly supported by peer-reviewed scientific literature. This want of scientific support makes using this defense in Texas all the more difficult than the M'Naghten Rule, which is supported by robust scientific literature.

The Jury & the Insanity Defense

Even if the M'Naghten test is met, and evidence is provided, an insanity defense is still difficult to succeed because of one other thing: Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 46C.154. This article prevents the court, the State attorney, and the defense attorney from informing the jury or prospective jury of the consequences that a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity would yield.

As you may know, there are misconceptions about the insanity defense, and some people believe that the defendant may be able to walk away after a not guilty by insanity verdict. The fact is: the defendant is committed to a State mental hospital. But the misconception about what happens to the defendant can prevent a successful insanity defense. For example, in the Andrea Yates case, the jurors knew that five children had been drowned, and Andrea Yates was the person who did it. To think that she could be released due to insanity rather than be detained seemed unjust; Andrea Yates' insanity defense did not succeed.

For an insanity defense to work in a serious case, you need an experienced criminal defense trial lawyer who understands the dynamics at play and how the psychology of the jury in such situations works. It can be complex, and it demands resources, strategy, and a lot of empathy.

Who Has the Burden to Prove Insanity?

The burden of proof is on the defendant. But the burden of proof is not the same standard the prosecution has, which is to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defendant must prove insanity by a preponderance of the evidence, or rather: it is "more likely than not" that the defendant was insane at the time of the offense.

To prove insanity by a preponderance of the evidence, a defense lawyer may provide lay and expert testimony. The State must then prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not insane at the time of the offense. Manning v. State, 730 S.W.2d (Tex.Crim.App. 1987).

There are a couple of procedural matters, however, that the defense must be aware of if it intends to claim an insanity defense. Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 46C.051 requires the defendant to provide notice of intent to raise the insanity defense. This notice must

  • Contain certification that a copy of the notice was served on the State attorney; and
  • Be filed at least 20 days before the trial is set to start; unless
  • A pretrial hearing was set before the 20-day period, in which case the defendant must give notice at the hearing.

If the defendant fails to give notice properly, then evidence of insanity is not admissible unless good cause is found for the failure to give notice. An experienced criminal defense lawyer, however, will provide notice according to criminal procedures.

What Happens After a Defendant Is Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity?

If the defendant is found not guilty by reason of insanity, he or she is not released from custody. Rather, the defendant is evaluated to determine how long the person should be committed. If committed, the period of time—according to Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 46C.002—is not to exceed the maximum possible prison sentence for the offense. After that period, the defendant must be released.

There are circumstances where the defendant will be ordered to a mental hospital, another inpatient facility, or other treatment, but if so, that must be completed in accordance with civil commitment procedures.

When Can the Insanity Defense Be Employed?

The insanity defense can be used whenever it applies to the facts of the case, but generally, it is used in murder or capital murder cases. It can only be asserted, however, if the defendant voluntarily agrees to it.

Insanity vs. Incompetent

Insanity is often confused with competency. You could have been insane at the time the offense was committed but be competent to stand trial at the time the trial begins. Competency means that you are rationally able to understand the charges that are brought against you—it is not necessarily about knowing right from wrong. Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 46B.003. If you are deemed incompetent, you will not stand trial.

The issue of competency can be raised through observations of the defendant's behavior or information from a credible source. If competency is raised, and the court finds there is sufficient evidence to support a finding of incompetency, an evaluation will be conducted. In the end, insanity is a defense and refers to the defendant's mental state at the time of the offense, while competency refers to the defendant's state at the time of criminal proceedings.

Contact Our Houston, TX Insanity Defense Lawyer

If you have been charged with a crime, and circumstances and facts exist that raise the question of sanity, then you may be able to raise the insanity defense as part of your defense strategy. Doug Murphy has twenty years of experience in criminal defense, and he can advise you on your options moving forward with an insanity defense. He will be honest. He will advise you of what to expect. And he will fight to protect your rights and personal integrity. Contact Doug Murphy today, either online or at 713-229-8333.

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