AV Preeminent
The Florida Bar

The Insanity Defense in the State of Florida

Insanity is, surprisingly, a legal concept and not a term employed by therapists, psychologists, or psychiatrists, says Broward criminal lawyer William Moore. Only a small number of criminal defendants ever consider, much less use, insanity as a defense. There are several reasons, each as good as the next. One important reason is simply that most criminal defendants are not mentally ill. Another is that some would prefer to argue their innocence, whereas insanity is an affirmative defense: “yes, I committed the crime, but I should be excused” due to lack of culpability for the offense. A final reason is the fact that the insanity defense has a low probability of success, especially as the defense has become increasingly difficult to prove over the past three decades, notes Fort Lauderdale criminal lawyer Moore.

Florida uses the M’Naghten Rule for the insanity defense, says Broward criminal attorney Moore. The criminal defendant is presumed to be sane and must demonstrate that he is not. He must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that his mental capacity was so impaired that he could not differentiate between right and wrong. In practice, where a defendant asserts an insanity defense, he must undergo a competency evaluation. (Competency evaluations may also be ordered in other circumstances, such as when court-appointed counsel doubts a defendant’s ability to participate in his own defense, or when the accused may be mentally retarded and incompetent to stand trial as a result.) Two mental health professionals examine the defendant and form an opinion. If they do not agree about the person’s capacity, a third evaluator may participate.

If a person is found to be insane, such that he is not culpable for his crimes due to his inability to tell right from wrong, he may nonetheless be committed to an institution for treatment. To prevail on the defense, the defendant must have demonstrated that he did not have the bad intent to commit the crime. For example, a defendant accused of murder who cut another person, but was under the impression he was cutting a sandwich due to his delusions, cannot be held accountable for the act because he did not have the intent to murder someone. Also, because he was so unaware of what he was doing, the victim’s death was in no way a foreseeable consequence (to him) of his actions.

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