Last week, Christopher Monfort, a criminal defendant who shot and killed a Seattle Police Officer was sentenced to life in prison after the jury unanimously voted against the death penalty at the King County Superior Court. During his trial, his legal team argued that at the time of criminal conduct, Mr. Monfort was “insane” and put up an insanity defense throughout the trial. After jury deliberations, the jury rejected the insanity defense, and found Mr. Monfort guilty of murder and attempted murder. One may wonder what an insanity defense is, and how courts determine whether a defendant falls within the parameters of being legally insane?
A criminal defendant who is found to have been legally insane when he or she committed a crime may be found not guilty by reason of insanity. In some cases, the defendant may be found guilty but sentenced to a less severe punishment due to a mental impairment. In states such as Washington, that allow the insanity defense, defendants must prove to the court that they did not understand what they were doing; failed to know right from wrong; acted on an uncontrollable impulse or some variety of these factors.
Insanity defenses to a criminal charge were first recognized in 1581, in an English legal treatise, which stated that, if a mad man, or a lunatic at the time of his lunacy kills someone, they cannot be held accountable. English courts came up with the wild beast test in the 18th Century, in which defendants could not be convicted if they could not understand the crime, no better than a wild beast, a brute or an infant.
Current laws allowing for the insanity defense follow a similar logic, although terms such as “lunatic” or “wild beast” are no longer used. In the mid 19th Century, the M’Naughten Rule was introduced and codified in to the British law, and is now used in the majority of the U.S. states, including Washington.
The M’Naughten rule simply states that a defendant did not understand what he or she did, or failed to distinguish right from wrong because of a “disease of mind.” This can be established by a mental competency evaluation, or be argued at trial by the defendant, in hopes of convincing a jury that an insanity defense would apply.
Another test commonly used by many states is the Model Penal Code test for legal insanity, which states that due to a diagnosed mental defect, the defendant either failed to understand the criminality of his acts, or was unable to act within the confines of the law.
If you or a loved one is in a bind as a result of a criminal charge, immediately contact a Seattle Criminal Attorney. A Criminal lawyer is not going to judge you, and understands that everyone makes mistakes. Hiring a Seattle Criminal Lawyer to help can – at a minimum – reduce penalties, and can help direct people on how to best deal with their criminal charge, and many times even get them dismissed. So it should go without saying that someone cited for a misdemeanor or felony should hire a qualified Seattle Criminal Lawyer as soon as possible. Criminal charges can cause havoc on a person’s personal and professional life. Anyone charged with a crime in Washington State should immediately seek the assistance of a seasoned Seattle Criminal Lawyer.