Insanity Defense In Iowa
Mental Health and the Insanity Defense
If you've had mental health issues in the past and are charged with a crime, you may have wondered about whether the insanity defense could help you.
The answer is, with very few exceptions, probably not.
After John Hinckley tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan way back when and got off on the insanity defense, people got angry about the insanity defense and made it a lot harder to use. That's why the rule is like it is today. The insanity defense is now rarely used.
Iowa's M'Naghten Rule for the Insanity Defense
Under Iowa law, temporary insanity doesn’t result in anything called an insanity plea. A defendant pleads Not Guilty and gives notice of the intent to raise the defense at trial.
When a defense attorney alleges that because of mental illness, a defendant didn’t know what they were doing and shouldn’t be assigned criminal responsibility for their conduct, the burden of proof remains on the State to show the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of all elements of the offense, but the burden is on the defense to show that the defense of insanity applies.
Expert witnesses, such as psychiatrists, can help the jury or trial court understand why a defendant might be guilty but mentally ill in a way that precludes conviction.
Iowa follows the M'Naghten rule for the insanity defense.
"A person is insane if at the time the offense was committed the accused was suffering from a diseased or deranged mental condition that renders the person incapable of knowing the nature and quality of the act the person is committing or, incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong."
If you wanted to use the insanity defense, your attorney would have to file a notice with the court. Notice of intent to rely on the insanity defense is required when pretrial motions are allowed, which is within 40 days of your arraignment. The court sometimes gives exceptions to this timeframe for "good cause."
At trial, the state first has the burden of proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. After you've been proven guilty, you will have the burden of showing insanity.
For the insanity defense to work, you have to prove "by a preponderance of the evidence" that you were insane at the time of the offense.
"Preponderance of the evidence" means, "more likely than not." You would have to show that you were "suffering from a diseased or deranged mental condition." You would also have to show that your diseased or deranged mental condition caused you to not know the "nature and quality" of what you were doing or to know that it was wrong to do it.
Here's a useful example from law school. If a man strangles someone but because of his mental condition, doesn't know he's strangling a person but thinks that he's squeezing lemons to make lemonade, that's legal insanity. If he's strangling a person because he hears the voice of god telling him that he has to strangle this person to save the world, that isn't legal insanity and he will still be convicted.