Criminal Law >> Iowa Criminal Process >> Insanity Defense
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.”
So here’s how this would go.
How to Use the Insanity Defense
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.
Lawyers for Insanity Defense
We can help you figure out what to do about your criminal charges in Des Moines, Polk County, Ankeny, Ames, Johnston, West Des Moines, Waukee, Saylorville, Bondurant, Altoona, Clive, Grimes, Pleasant Hill, Story County, Boone County, Marshall County, Dallas County, Jasper County, Madison County, Warren County, Marion County, Wapello County, Davis County, Ottumwa, Bloomfield, Iowa City, Council Bluffs, and the rest of Iowa.
If you’ve been charged with a crime in Iowa and you want to explore the viability of the insanity defense in your case, call (515) 491 6128 and ask us if we can help.
This blog post is for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice. Consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction. Reading this site doesn’t create an attorney-client relationship. If you want to talk to us about representing you when you’re charged with an Iowa crime, please contact us at (515) 491 6128 and we’ll set up a time to talk.
What will happen if I’m charged?
When someone alleges that you have committed a crime, law enforcement will start an investigation.
The county sheriff’s department will take you into custody if they are aware that you have active warrants. The sheriff’s department does not have the latitude to decide whether or not to release you. Arrest records are available online in most Iowa jurisdictions, which will help your friends and family find out where you are if you are suddenly arrested.
Depending on whether they believe there is probable cause to charge you with Iowa crimes, you could be taken to jail or given documents that say when your court date is. After your arrest, you will be read your rights and given an opportunity to call a lawyer or a law firm.
Depending on the nature of your condition, it might be apparent from the time of your arret that the insanity defense might be relevant. Other times, the relevance of the defense won’t become apparent until later in representation.
You will be taken in front of the judge for an initial appearance. The judge will schedule a preliminary hearing. At the preliminary hearing, you or your lawyer will have the opportunity to ask a witness questions to establish whether probable cause exists to charge you with the offense. At this hearing, the witness will be under oath. There are reasons that your attorney might suggest waiving the preliminary hearing. You should consult with them before making a decision.
You may be confined in a correctional facility before trial if you are unable to make bail or if the court doesn’t set bail. There are various factors the court may consider when deciding whether to set bail, such as the nature of your offense and any public safety concerns.
Depending on the nature of the allegations, there may be a protective order in place. If someone has a protective order against you and tries to contact you, you should contact the sheriff’s office right away. A law enforcement officer will take a police report. Police officers can’t provide legal advice, but they can take you – or the protected party, if they persist in violating a no contact order – to the county jail
Your attorney will let you know when you will next have to appear in front of the court. This may be for an arraignment or you may be able to submit a written arraignment.
The county attorney’s office will review the information provided to them by the police. They will determine what offenses to charge you with. You could be charged with a misdemeanor with a felony
Your attorney will let you know what the government is claiming you did, what your rights are, what the worst case scenario sentence could be, and how this could affect your criminal record. Your criminal lawyer will tell you more about the fines, terms of incarceration, and collateral consequences that might apply.
Your law firm will give you legal advice on the pros and cons of taking your case to trial. The decision of whether or not to go to trial is ultimately yours.
If you choose to go to trial, your case will be tried in district court. The officer or officers who arrested you and investigated your case will be likely State witnesses.
At trial, if your lawyer is raising the insanity defense, the government will first have to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that you are otherwise guilty of the offense. Once that’s been proven, it’s your lawyer’s job to try to show the jury how the insanity defense might apply.
If you are convicted or enter a guilty plea, you will be sentenced. After conviction, you could be directed to pay a fine, complete probation, or to detention in jail or prison.
If you are fined, the clerk’s office may be able to help you set up a payment plan.
After conviction, you might have reason and opportunity to appeal your conviction or sentence to the court of appeals or even to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Supreme Court might even say that there was a constitutional problem with the statute you were charged under. Ask your criminal defense attorney for more information.
What should I know about lawyers generally?
Attorneys are people who completed their bachelor’s or 4-year degrees and then went on to attend a law school, such as Drake University Law School in Des Moines. After completing law school, Iowa lawyers take the bar exam and are evaluated for character and fitness. Iowa lawyers are admitted to the Iowa state bar. The bar association regulates the legal profession.
Some lawyers and law firms do general practice, which means they accept all kind of representation. Some lawyers specialize in particular areas of law. A lawyer might do only civil practice or only criminal defense. Some lawyers get even more particular than that, practicing only (or primarily) in a narrow area, such as domestic violence, sex crime, sexual abuse, operating while intoxicated, child endangerment, child abuse, indecent exposure, theft, family law, child custody, personal injury, possession of controlled substances, sex crimes, marijuana, DUI defense, arson, criminal mischief, vehicular homicide, drug offenses, traffic violations, violent crime or drunk driving.
Many Iowa lawyers practice only in Iowa courts. All Iowa crimes are defined in the Iowa Code. The Iowa rules of criminal procedure control what happens in Iowa criminal justice cases.
Federal court is different. If you are facing federal charges for a federal criminal offense, make sure to let your Iowa lawyer know that so that they can give you referrals to other attorneys, if necessary. Federal courts in Iowa are not the same things as state law courts in Iowa. Federal prosecutors and federal judges use different procedural rules. Federal crimes are subject to federal sentencing.
What offenses exist in Iowa criminal law?
Criminal law offenses are divided into misdemeanors and felonies. Class A felonies exist, but most people facing felony charges are facing a class B felony, a class C felony, or a class D felony. If you have questions about Iowa arson laws, you should talk to a lawyer.
What can an Iowa insanity defense lawyer do for me?
If you’ve been accused of a crime, you need to be in contact with an Iowa lawyer or a law firm that works with Iowa criminal law.
If there’s a warrant out for your arrest, your Iowa criminal defense attorney can help coordinate with law enforcement to coordinate a self-surrender that doesn’t result in potential embarrassment at work or while you’re home with your family.
Your Iowa felony lawyer will stay in touch with the county attorney’s office and let the prosecutor know whether you choose to exercise or waive your right to speedy trial. Further, counsel can provide some guidance on whether it’s advisable in your position to consider a plea agreement or to go to trial. They will talk to you about whether a judge or jury is likely to find a particular witness credible.
Your criminal lawyer will let you know what sort of jail time you might be facing if convicted, how this will impact your criminal history, and how likely it is that you could get your charges dismissed.
Finally, there is a Victim Services Support Program available through the Iowa attorney general’s office.