What Is the Insanity Defense in Texas?
What Is the Insanity Defense in Texas?In 2017, Richard Rojas plowed through Times Square with his car, leading to multiple injuries and one death.
During his trial in 2022, the jury believed in Rojas' insanity defense and found that he was not responsible for his actions due to a reason of insanity or severe mental illness. The verdict, in favor of the defendant, resulted in the dropping of all charges related to the criminal offense.
Although Rojas' defense team successfully handled the insanity defense, there was a major outcry among Americans after the verdict. The insanity defense has an infamous reputation among the public, with many believing that it is an easy way to avoid criminal responsibility.
However, it is not that simple. The insanity defense is challenging to present in court, and even more difficult to convince the jury that the person's actions resulted from their deteriorating mental health.
A defendant will require the help of a skilled criminal defense attorney who has extensive experience handling these types of cases. Experienced Fort Worth criminal defense lawyers can help file motions for psychological evaluations, bring in experts to provide testimonies and submit evidence of poor mental health conditions.
Those facing criminal charges must immediately contact the legal team at Sparks Law Firm in Ft. Worth, Texas, for a free consultation to discuss their case and learn more about their legal options. They can help with answering such such as, "How long does the DA have to file charges in Texas?"
What Is the Insanity Defense in Texas?
The Texas Penal Code § 8.01 defines the "insanity defense" as an affirmative defense that the defendant may use to justify their actions. They can argue that they had a mental disease at the time of the crime and were unaware of the nature of their actions.
However, it is important to note that this affirmative defense is not a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. The defendant must provide evidence that they were suffering from a mental disease and that they were not aware of the nature of their conduct due to their mental status.
The law also does not recognize mental disease as an abnormality arising from repeated criminal or antisocial conduct. There are several factors that medical expert teams must consider before the judge can accept the insanity defense.
How Does the Texas Court Determine the Defendant's Mental Status?
In most cases, the courts in Texas use the M'Naghten test, which focuses on the defendant's ability to understand the nature of the crime they committed and to differentiate between right and wrong.
During the court proceedings, the defendant has the burden of proof when using the insanity defense. They must prove that they were suffering from a mental illness and did not know the difference between right and wrong when committing the crime.
In addition to the M'Naghten test, the courts also recognize the Irresistible Impulse Test. If the defendant was aware of the moral ramifications of their actions, they could argue that they had no control over their impulses, which caused them to commit the crime.
When the defendant uses the insanity defense, the courts must determine whether they are competent to stand trial. Under the Texas Penal Code § 46B.003, if the defendant has the ability to consult with their attorney and understand the charges against them, they are deemed competent to stand trial.
To determine the defendant's competency, the court may appoint qualified psychiatrists to help assess their mental status. Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure § 46B.024, there are certain factors that the expert must consider, including:
The defendant's ability to understand the charges levied against them, engage in a reasonable manner with their attorney, and present themselves in court appropriately.
Any evidence pointing to whether the defendant is mentally ill or has some form of mental retardation.
The duration of the mental retardation, disease, or defect.
Any evidence of the defendant taking medication for their mental illness and its effects on them.
The degree of cognitive impairment.
Does the Court Release the Defendant After a Successful Insanity Defense?
When the court finds that the defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity, the state drops all charges. However, that does not mean that the individual is free to roam the streets.
There may be a hearing to determine a suitable course of action, and a comprehensive mental health evaluation will assess the defendant's cognitive state.
Under the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure §46C.002, the court can order the defendant to spend a certain period of time in a mental institution.
Depending on the nature of the committed crime, the offender could spend up to 90 days in a maximum-security state hospital. During this time, the court can decide on extending the term period by one year with possible one-year extensions.
However, the time the defendant spends in a mental institution cannot exceed the maximum term under the criminal justice system if the defendant is acquitted of the crime.
Suppose the maximum sentence for the crime committed is 10 years. In that case, the defendant cannot be committed to a mental institution for longer than that.
However, under civil commitment proceedings, the person may remain confined in their court-ordered treatment.
Is the Insanity Defense Common in Texas?
Although it may seem easy for alleged offenders to use the insanity defense and avoid a jail sentence, it is not that simple. In fact, using such legal defenses is extremely rare in the state and across the country.
According to the eight-state study conducted by Frank Schmalleger in 2001, less than 1% of all cases in courts involved the insanity defense, with only a 26% success rate. Of those who succeeded, 90% of them had a prior history of mental illnesses.
Why Is the Success Rate of the Insanity Defense Extremely Low?
In most cases, it is difficult for jurors to find defendants using the insanity defense not guilty, especially if they know that the offender committed a crime. This is because it is challenging to prove a severe mental disease that substantially impaired the defendant's ability to understand the nature of their actions or distinguish right from wrong.
There is also a negative public perception of defendants who use the insanity defense. Many believe that they are exaggerating their mental illness to avoid criminal responsibility for their actions.
If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, there could be a possibility of them further committing heinous crimes or harming others.
Examples of Insanity Defense Used in Texas Courts
Over the last two decades, there have been a few cases where the defendants used the insanity defense to reduce their sentence or have the case dismissed.
In 2021, Andrea Yates, a woman who was suffering from postpartum psychosis in Houston, was unable to control her impulses and drowned all five of her children in a bathtub. The gruesome act did not go well with the jury, and when she used the insanity defense, the jurors rejected it and sentenced her to life in prison.
However, she received a second trial after the testimony of a prosecution medical expert, where it was found that she was not guilty. The court ordered her to spend the rest of her life in a state mental hospital.
Deanna Laney, a mother of three, stood trial for the murder of her two children and injured the third child with rocks. She claimed that it was God's wish and that she was simply following orders. The jurors found her not guilty by reason of insanity, and she was committed to a state mental hospital.
Here's an example where a jury rejected an insanity defense. In 2015, Eddie Ray Routh was on trial for the murder of Chris Kyle, the author of American Sniper, and his friend.
His defense team argued that Routh had schizophrenia and believed that Kyle and his friend were pigs that would hunt him down if he didn't kill them first.
After deliberating for more than two hours, the jury found Routh guilty of capital murder and sentenced him to life in prison.
What Are the Other Defenses the Defendant Can Use to Avoid Criminal Responsibility?
Besides pleading insanity, there are several other defenses that the defendant can use to avoid criminal responsibility, some of which include the following:
Age Affecting Criminal Responsibility
Those under the age of 17 fall under the terminology referred to as "juveniles," and under Texas law, they cannot be tried in the same capacity as an adult.
Under the Texas Penal Code § 8.07, the criminal justice system cannot prosecute or convict those under the age of 15 for any offense except under certain circumstances. These may include aggravated controlled substance felony, a capital offense, and the violation of a penal code, among others.
Under Texas Penal Code § 8.06, defendants may be able to avoid criminal responsibility if they can successfully prove that the local law enforcement agencies or agents persuaded them into committing the crime.
When defendants use the entrapment defense, the prosecution has the burden of proof to disprove it without any reasonable doubt.
Under Texas Penal Code § 8.05, defendants may be able to avoid responsibility if they can successfully prove that they were facing an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.
Facing Criminal Charges? Schedule a Free Consultation with Sparks Law Firm!
Those facing criminal charges due to his or her conduct in Ft. Worth, Texas, must immediately contact Sparks Law Firm and schedule a free consultation with their experienced legal team. They have the experience and knowledge to help assess the case, guide the defendants on their legal options, and provide effective representation.