Mental health issues are a known problem among those who have been convicted of violent crimes in California and around the country. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 61 percent of all U.S. inmates who reside in state prisons for violent offenses have established mental health issues. Nonetheless, criminal defense attorneys say that employing the not guilty by reason of insanity plea may not have made a difference for many of these individuals.
The National Institute of Mental Health conducted a study on how often the insanity defense is used in county court cases. This researched revealed that only 1 percent of all such cases that go to trial include such pleas, and the defendants who do use it only succeed 25 percent of the time. This last figure stands in contrast to the 90 percent of insanity-pleading defendants who have already been diagnosed with mental health issues, and the disparity indicates that other factors impact this defense strategy's potential for success.
Analyzing high-profile court cases, like the Aurora, Colorado, theater shootings admittedly committed by defendant James Holmes, an attorney noted that prosecutorial tactics impact juror attitudes. In the Holmes case, prosecutors pursuing the death penalty shared explicit photos of the shooting's aftermath and testimony from distraught witnesses. In other trials, factors like remarks made to police officers were used by juries to outright reject the insanity claims of defendants who were known to suffer from schizophrenia and PTSD.
Defendants should not rely on the favorable dispositions of jurors to help them avoid potentially unjust punishment. People who stand accused of serious crimes should instead attempt to build a criminal defense strategy with the assistance of an attorney.