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Crazy Enough to Work? The Insanity Defense

With hordes of rabid TV pundits baring their fangs each time they smell a sensational trial in the air, it is sometimes hard to remember that in America — unlike in the media — the accused is always assumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Everyone in America has heard of that principle since grade school. What is less well known is that when you walk into a courtroom to defend yourself, the court assumes that you have a halo of innocence on your head as well as sanity inside of it.

Now, most of us, in our day-to-day lives, expect to be presumed sane (no matter what kind of insanity our day-to-day lives may bring us). But when it comes to criminal defense, the presumption of sanity is not necessarily a good thing. The law is much more inclined to hold sane people responsible for their actions, while forgiving the insane because — well, they probably had no idea what they were doing.

And that, in a nutshell (no pun intended), is what the insanity defense is all about. It is not just a matter of having a screw loose — if the jury concludes that you chose to do evil, terrible things even though you knew very well how evil and terrible they are, you are out of luck.

To be found not guilty by reason of insanity in Ohio, you must be able to prove — not just claim, but prove —that although you committed the act in question, it was only because your mental issues prevented you from knowing what you did was wrong. That is it. Claiming that you were too out-of-your-mind to control yourself, for instance, will not do it. When it comes to the insanity defense, nothing short of complete cluelessness will do.

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