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What does Not Guilty By Reason of Insanity mean?

The Julie Schenecker trial brought to the forefront an issue often raised by Tampa criminal defense attorney, the use of the defense of not guilty by reason of insanity.   While it is often discussed by television personalities and the writers behind many popular television shows and movies, it simply isn’t successfully asserted as often as they would like you to believe.  In fact, if you ask many Tampa criminal defense attorneys, most can probably not identify a single case, they have personally successfully seen it asserted.  There are several things that are worth pointing out concerning the defense, which is more commonly known as NGRI.

First, if it is successfully asserted, the individual does not simply walk out of the back of the courthouse, rather they are generally sent to the State Hospital for some sort of treatment program.  As you can imagine, these treatment programs vary based on the severity of the mental illness affecting the individual.  Even more importantly, the presiding judge maintains jurisdiction over the individual for years to continue monitoring their treatment and ensuring compliance.  Unfortunately based on the severity of the offense, the length of supervision can vary.  This “sentence” isn’t viewed by the court as a criminal sanction, rather it is for them to be treated.

Secondly, the accused cannot argue that they were not guilty of the offense, while asserting not guilty by reason of insanity before a jury because they are always going to conflict.   This also ties into the reason that the defense is so rarely asserted because generally there are stronger defenses to argue, like identity or intent issues.  Hence in the Scheneker case, the defense really didn’t have much to argue, since there were no questions of identification or intent, given the number of shots, nature of shots and her own statements, through her journal and very own words to investigators.

Lastly, not guilty by reason of insanity is different and distinguishable from competency issues.  While not guilty by reason of insanity relates solely to the trial and guilt/innocence portion, competency relates to one’s ability to understand the process in general and go forward through the process.  Simply put, competency relates to rounding the bases of the criminal process, while not guilty by reason of insanity relates to crossing home plate during a jury trial.  We further discuss this elsewhere on our Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney blog.

If you have questions concerning the mental health of someone being accused of a crime, contact the Tampa criminal defense attorneys of Hackworth Law for a free case consultation.  We have handled tens of thousands of cases throughout the Tampa Bay area.   If you would like to contact one of our Tampa criminal defense attorneys immediately, please use the “contact us now” tab in the upper right hand corner of our website.  We also offer a free, secure chatbox in the lower right hand corner of our website and operators standing by 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to answer your questions and connect you to one of our Tampa Criminal Defense Attorneys.  We appreciate you taking the time to check out our Tampa criminal defense attorney blog and we look forward to hearing from you.