When someone allegedly commits a crime, sometimes that person’s state of mind at the time will determine whether or not the person will be punished for the crime and the severity of the punishment. A person’s state of mind is often a crucial aspect of a criminal defense in murder trials. This appears to be true in an ongoing trial in Tennessee where the defendant, an East Memphis man, was charged with killing his mother last year.

While a recent evaluation ordered by the presiding judge found that the defendant is competent to stand trial, doctors say they need more time to determine the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the alleged offense. Such a determination could determine whether or not a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity could be supported.

This story highlights the important defense of legal insanity. A defendant may be found not guilty, or may receive less severe punishment if the court finds that the defendant was legally insane at the time the crime was committed. There are different tests for the defense, and it often depends on what state the crime was committed in.

In Tennessee, the “Model Penal Code” test has been adopted into the State’s statutes. According to the applicable statute, an insanity defense can apply where the mental disease or defect is severe; and the accused was unable to appreciate the nature or wrongfulness of the act.

Furthermore, the defendant has the burden of proving insanity by the standard of clear and convincing evidence. The law no longer allows experts to give opinions and expect the court to unconditionally accept an evaluation that a defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity. In some cases, the insanity defense can provide a complete defense to those persons whose mental condition satisfies the above criteria.

Whenever a case exists where a defense of legal insanity may be possible, it is important for the defendant to discuss the defense with an experienced criminal law attorney. Applying the proper criminal defense can help keep a person out of prison when they don’t belong there.

Source: The Commercial Appeal, “Judge Allows More Time for Mental Evaluation of Man Charged With Killing Mother,” Lawrence Buser, March 6, 2013