In Florida, even if a person committed a crime, they may have the opportunity to be found Not Guilty if the defendant can prove that he or she was insane at the time the offense was committed. Simply having a mental health disorder is not sufficient to prove the defense. Florida provides for the insanity defense in Fla. Stat. 775.027. It states:
(1) AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSE.—All persons are presumed to be sane. It is an affirmative defense to a criminal prosecution that, at the time of the commission of the acts constituting the offense, the defendant was insane. Insanity is established when:
(a) The defendant had a mental infirmity, disease, or defect; and
(b) Because of this condition, the defendant:
1. Did not know what he or she was doing or its consequences; or
2. Although the defendant knew what he or she was doing and its consequences, the defendant did not know that what he or she was doing was wrong.
Mental infirmity, disease, or defect does not constitute a defense of insanity except as provided in this subsection.
(2) BURDEN OF PROOF.—The defendant has the burden of proving the defense of insanity by clear and convincing evidence.
As is obvious from a plain reading of the statute, as well as dictated by common sense, the defense must prove initially that there is a mental infirmity, disease, or defect. Without a mental disorder, there is no insanity.
Second, if a mental disorder is established, there is a causation element to the defense which can be proven in one of two ways:
- Because of the mental disorder, the defendant did not know what he or she was doing or
- Because of the mental disorder, the defendant did know that what he or she was doing was wrong.
Lastly, because all persons are presumed to be sane, a jury would have to decide that a defendant is legally insane by clear and convincing evidence before it could legally acquit a defendant (in other words, find the defendant not guilty by reason of insanity).
Insanity Defense: Necessity of Expert Testimony
In order to prove an insanity defense, it is absolutely necessary to retain an expert psychiatrist or psychologist. Without such an expert, it will be impossible to prove the existence of a mental disorder and that that disorder caused the defendant’s inability to know what he/she was doing or that what he/she was doing was wrong.
In Hall v. State, 568 So.2d 882 (Fla. 1990), Hall’s conviction for 1st degree murder was overturned because the trial court failed to allow Hall’s defense to present expert testimony. Hall’s expert would have testified that he suffered from a schizophrenic disorder that caused him to believe that he was under the influence of Satan or Bunny Dixon.
In this case Hall claimed that he was incapable of understanding the wrongfulness of his acts because he was under the influence of satan and/or Bunny Dixon. In the proffered report, however, Dr. Farinacci did not base his opinion of Hall’s inability to distinguish right from wrong solely on the alleged influence of satan. Although Dr. Farinacci noted in his report that Hall said that he felt “weird” after Bunny Dixon conducted a “satanic ritual” the day the incident in question occurred, his diagnosis of Hall’s mental state at the time of the offense made no mention of the effects of satan on Hall’s actions. Rather, his report stated that Hall displayed characteristics of individuals with schizophrenic disorders and that, on the day of the shooting, Hall was operating with a state of altered consciousness brought on by extreme stress, namely fear for his own life and that of his sister. As a result, Dr. Farinacci concluded that Hall was unable to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the offense. Thus, his proffered report indicated that Hall was unable to distinguish right from wrong at the time of the offense due to a clinically recognized mental disease or defect separate and apart from any satanic influence. Such evidence meets the requirements of the M’Naghten rule and clearly was relevant to Hall’s defense of insanity.Hall v. State, 568 So.2d 882 (Fla. 1990).
Obviously, the charge does not have to be murder in order to use the insanity defense. It can happen just as easily in a battery case as it can a homicide. Nonetheless, the importance of expert testimony cannot be overstated. If you don’t have a great expert, this defense is going nowhere.
Insanity Defense: Insanity Caused by Involuntary Intoxication
It is also true that insanity can be temporary and not necessarily caused by a permanent mental defect or disorder. This occurs, typically, in the case of involuntary intoxication. This applies in the situation where a person unknowingly ingests a substance that causes him or her to become intoxicated to the point where they do not know what they are doing or that what they are doing is wrong. This defense is not applicable in a situation where a person knowingly takes a substance that he or she does not realize will make him or her intoxicated. Cenden v. State, 9 Fla.L.Weekly Supp. 587a (Fla. 17th Cir. Ct. 2002).
As an example, if a person knowingly drinks alcohol to the point of impairment or even blackout, they would still be guilty of any crimes committed because they knowingly ingested the substance. However, a person who intended to take an aspirin, but were given a Darvocet or other impairing drug that caused them to not know what they were doing, they would not be guilty of the alleged crime.
These types of cases happen most commonly in DUI cases where a person drives after having been given the wrong substance or having been intentionally drugged. In Carter v. State, 710 So.2d 110 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998), the Court held:
We therefore conclude that where, as here, there is evidence that (1) the defendant unknowingly ingested a substance which caused him to become impaired and (2) drove without the knowledge that he was or would become impaired while driving, an instruction on involuntary intoxication should be given.Carter v. State, 710 So.2d 110 (Fla. 4th DCA 1998).
Call Your Attorney Today!
Insanity and Involuntary Intoxication defenses are not easy in Florida. However, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help you build this defense for the best chance at success in litigation. Call us today at 813.397.3965 to set up your free consultation.