Through the media and other forums, most people have heard of someone pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. Though this defense is often used by characters in movies, books, and television shows, in reality it is only used in less than 0.2 percent of felony cases. And the defense is only successful in approximately one-fourth of those cases. Though it is rare, the insanity defense is still a very important option for certain defendants.

The factors required in order for a jury to find a defendant insane differ depending on the state. The law on the insanity defense in Illinois is similar to that of the Model Penal Code. The law states that a person will not be held criminally responsible for behavior if they did not have the “substantial capacity” to understand and appreciate that his behavior was criminal. The lack of understanding must have been at the time of the offense, as lack of capacity before or after the offense will not suffice. Additionally, having a diagnosis of a mental illness is not enough if the person could still understand the criminality of their actions.

Notorious Insanity Cases

One of the most notorious—and bizarre—cases in which a defendant successfully used the insanity defense occurred in the 1980s. The defendant had become obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver and specifically with its young star, Jodie Foster. He began stalking Foster and obsessively trying to get her attention. Finally, he decided to attempt to assassinate then-president Ronald Reagan, just like Robert DeNiro’s character in Taxi Driver. A jury acquitted the defendant of all charges, finding that a condition called erotomania kept him from appreciating his actions.

The insanity defense was also used in the case of serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer’s attorney argued that he was insane due to borderline personality disorder. The jury, however, disagreed with the idea that Dahmer did not appreciate the nature of his actions and found him guilty of 15 murders; he was sentenced to 15 life terms in Wisconsin, in addition to another life term for a separately-tried murder in Ohio.

Another well-publicized insanity case was that of Lorena Bobbitt, who famously mutilated her abusive husband by cutting off his genitalia with a kitchen knife. Bobbitt’s attorney argued that just prior to her conduct, she had a flashback of all the years of abuse, which caused an irresistible impulse to wound her husband. The jury agreed, and decided not to hold her criminally liable for her actions.

Though the insanity defense is rare, there are many other defenses to criminal offenses that are used on a regular basis. The defenses available to you will always depend on the type of charge you face and the specific circumstances of your case. Steven Goldman is a highly experienced criminal defense attorney who knows how to identify the best possible defense in your case and aggressively defend you in court. If you are facing any type of criminal charges, contact Goldman & Associates today for assistance.