Understanding the Insanity Defense in California

If you or a loved one have been charged the murder in the state of California and believe that you were not in your right mind at the time of the alleged incident, the legal defense of insanity may be available to you. The purpose of this article is to explain the insanity test used by the state of California. To protect your legal rights and understand the possible applicability of this defense to the charges against you, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney.

The M’Naughten Test

There are four insanity tests used in the courtrooms of the Unites States: 1

  • M’Naughten
  • Irresistible Impulse
  • Modal Penal Code
  • Durham

Each state is free to utilize the test it believes to be the most reliable and effective. The M’Naughten Test is the test that California applies when considering the validity of an invocation of the defense of insanity. The reason the insanity test is made available is a theoretically humane one – that you cannot be found guilty of a crime you committed if you were legally insane at the time of the commission of the crime. The rationale here goes to state of mind. To be guilty of the crime of murder, for example, you must have possessed either an intent to kill, an intent to commit serious bodily harm, a so-called “depraved heart,” or killed another human being during the commission of an inherently dangerous felony.

Intent is synonymous with state of mind, and, with regard to murder, is often marked by the elements of deliberation and premeditation. These mental acts are considered to require a sane mind to truly reflect intent. After all, it is the ill intent that merits the harsh punishment meted out for a murder conviction. But what if a killing was the product of an insane mind – a mind that does not understand morality or the consequences of certain actions? This is where the M’Naughten Test comes in.

Under the M’Naughten Test, you are considered legally insane if you either did not understand the nature of a criminal act you committed or did not understand that your actions were morally wrong. If either prong of the test is met, you are considered legally insane and thus cannot be found guilty of the crime you have been charged with.

A Successful Insanity Defense Leads to Mental Health Care

If you are found legally insane under California’s M’Naughten Test, you will be sent to a state mental hospital instead of prison. To invoke the insanity defense, it is imperative that you rely on the skill and expertise of a California criminal defense attorney. Evidence will need to be presented, including that pertaining to your mental health history, and it must be proved by a preponderance of evidence. With your legal rights and future at stake, contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney immediately.