The common pleas (a defendant’s response to criminal charges) in a criminal case include not guilty, guilty, no contest, and finally, “not guilty by reason of insanity,” otherwise known as the insanity defense.
Occasionally, a defendant will enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Once the defendant’s guilt has been established through a plea or a trial, a trial will proceed, addressing the defendant’s sanity. During the trial, the burden will be on the defense to prove by convincing evidence that the defendant was “legally insane” at the time the crime was committed.
Legal Insanity Under the California Penal Code
The insanity defense can be found under Section 1026of the California Penal Code. In order for a defendant to meet the legal requirement for insanity, he or she, by reason of mental disease or defect had to be incapable of knowing the nature of their act, understanding the nature of their actions, or distinguishing between right at wrong when they allegedly committed the crime.
Under Sec. 1026(a), it reads: “If the verdict or finding is that the defendant was sane at the time the offense was committed, the court shall sentence the defendant as provided by law. If the verdict or finding is that the defendant was insane at the time the offense was committed, the court, unless it appears to the court that the sanity of the defendant has been recovered fully, shall direct that the defendant be committed to the State Department of State Hospitals for the care and treatment of the mentally disordered or any other appropriate public or private treatment facility approved by the community program director, or the court may order the defendant placed on outpatient status.”
On September 21, 2018, the East Bay Times reported on a man who claimed to have “blacked out” and couldn’t remember shooting another man. S.K. used the insanity defense after being accused of shooting a man in the head while he sat on his motorcycle outside of a bar in San Leandro.
S.K., who told deputies he had a history of schizophrenia, was found guilty by a jury. Following the guilty verdict, a second trial was scheduled called the sanity phase. During the second trial, the same jury decided if S.K. was legally insane when the fatal shooting outside the bar occurred. While we don’t know the outcome of this 2018 case, it is a good illustration of the insanity defense.