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The Insanity Defense



Nothing is more important than your freedom. Prosecutors have wide discretion to prosecute crimes in an effort to vindicate victims in a community. But what happens when a person is unfit to stand trial? Who is the champion of their rights?

At Schalk, Ciaccio & Kahn, P.C., lawyers ensure that their clients are taken care of, especially those with mental diseases and defects. Identifying a mental affliction has serious ramifications for legal proceedings, depending on when the disease or defect is discovered. A claim of mental illness can potentially prevent a defendant from standing trial. A convicted individual who is later deemed mentally incompetent may be transferred to a mental institution, rather than remaining in a correctional institution. A claim of mental defect must be proven at the time that the crime was allegedly committed (if it is raised at the time of trial, the defendant is not absolved from the crime – rather, the case will likely be postponed – stayed – until the defendant regains competence).


In New York, the insanity defense is an affirmative defense. Normally, the burden of proof rests upon the shoulders of the prosecutor for every element of every crime charged. When it comes to affirmative defenses, the burden rests with the defendant.

There are several tests that courts employ to adjudicate a claim of mental disease or defect. The first test is the M’Naghten test, used in a majority of jurisdictions. Under this test, the defendant proves that he either did not know that his conduct was wrong, or he did not understand the nature of his conduct. Under the Model Penal Code, the defendant must establish that he lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct, or conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. In New York, the courts utilize a Cognitive test. Here, the defendant must prove that he lacked the substantial capacity to know and appreciate the nature and consequences of his conduct, or that his conduct was wrong.

Each test has different requirements that must be satisfied. To better understand these potential defenses and what type of impact this defense has on your case, contact the lawyers at Schalk, Ciaccio & Kahn, P.C. for a consultation and a discussion of your rights.

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