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How Criminal Courts Regard Mental Illness

July 22, 2015 | Written by Dan Margolis

The Ohio criminal justice system recognizes that mental illness can make people commit crimes without realizing what they are doing. Thus, criminal defendants have the option of pleading not guilty by reason of insanity.

Though we are only now beginning to understand mental illness, this form of defense goes back to British common law. The first legal recognition of insanity as a viable defense comes from 1581, in a legal treatise that says a “madman or a natural fool, or a lunatic in the time of his lunacy” could not be held accountable for murder.

Today, states use various tests for determining whether a defendant should not be found guilty due to mental illness. Most states use the “M’Naghten Rule,” which asks whether the defendant, at the time of the criminal activity, understood the nature of the crime and could tell the difference between right and wrong.

The insanity defense came up in Ohio recently, when a man accused of threatening to kill Speaker of the House John Boehner was found not guilty. At a hearing earlier in July, a forensic report showed that the defendant, a 44-year-old man, cannot be held responsible for his actions, which involved sending emails to Boehner’s wife threatening to poison Boehner’s wine. A police search of the man’s home uncovered several types of ammunition, according to Roll Call.

Establishing an insanity defense can be difficult, but an experienced defense attorney will know how to make the best possible case. If it is not appropriate in your particular case, another affirmative defense may be available.

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