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Exploring the insanity defense in the state of Virginia

There are multiple approaches someone facing a criminal charge might end up pursuing in the course of creating a defense. Though not common, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the charges it is possible that not guilty by reason of insanity will be plead. A recent case in the state of Virginia, in which this plea was successful, highlights the situations in which it might succeed.

The case involved a 27-year-old mother and nurse who bit off a portion of her 10-month-old baby’s ear. She was found not guilty after an expert witness testified that at the time she was legally insane due to postpartum depression. Prior to the incident the mother had sought medical care from her physician and was placed on an antidepressant. The woman allegedly claimed that she heard Satan screaming.

For this defense to work in the state of Virginia, the following must be found to be true:

  • There must be a history of mental illness on the part of the person accused of the crime.
  • A judge must determine that at the time of the alleged offense, the defendant could not distinguish between right and wrong.
  • The accused could not be willfully intoxicated at the time of the incident that prompted the criminal charges.

Clinical psychologists are usually a critical part of making the case.

This approach does not mean that the accused will not have to face consequences for his or her actions. In this particular instance for example, a treatment plan will be created for the woman by doctors. In addition, she could end up spending years in a hospital.

As is the case with all criminal charges, it is a good idea to work with a lawyer in crafting an approach.

Source: The Virginian-Pilot, “When does "Not guilty by reason of insanity" apply?,” Scott Daugherty, Oct. 25, 2014

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