Insanity defense

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In criminal trials, the insanity defenses are possible defenses by excuse, an affirmative defense by which defendants argue that they should not be held criminally liable for breaking the law because they were legally insane at the time of the commission of alleged crimes. A defendant attempting such a defense will often be required to undergo a mental examination beforehand. The legal definition of "insane" is, in this context, quite different from psychiatric definitions of "mentally ill". When the insanity defense is successful, the defendant is usually committed to a psychiatric hospital.

In the United Kingdom, Ireland and the United States, use of the defense is rare; it is more common to rely upon a state of temporary mental impairment. In the United States, this is not a legal defense, but a mitigating factor referred to as "diminished capacity". Mitigating factors, including things not eligible for the insanity defense like intoxication, may lead to reduced charges or reduced sentences. The insanity defense is available in most jurisdictions that respect human rights and have a rule of law although the extent to which it can be applied differs between jurisdictions.

The insanity defense is based on evaluations by forensic professionals that the defendant was incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong at the time of the offense. Some jurisdictions require the evaluation to address the defendant's ability to control his or her behavior at the time of the offense. A defendant making the insanity argument might be said to be pleading "not guilty by reason of insanity" (NGRI) which, if successful, may result in the defendant being committed to a psychiatric facility for an indeterminate period.

Diminished responsibility or diminished capacity can be employed as a mitigating factor and in the United States is applicable to more circumstances than the insanity defense. For example, some jurisdictions accept inebriation or other drug intoxication as mitigating factors whilst intoxication is not accepted as an insanity defense on its own. If diminished responsibility or capacity is presented convincingly, the charges may be reduced to a lesser offense or the sentence may be more lenient.


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