The Insanity Defense in Illinois

dmitry-ratushny-64773-copy-300x199The insanity defense is one of the oldest defenses in the book. Recently, it was used by Elzbieta Plackowska. She was accused of stabbing her son (5) and daughter (7) to death in 2012. The court rejected her defense. It found her guilty and sentenced her to life without parole. The legislation on this has specific requirements.

A mother killing her own young children is an unusual crime. But, that does not automatically mean it can only occur because someone is insane. Illinois has strict requirements for accepting this kind of defense. They include a mental assessment by a competent person with the right qualifications and experience.

Key Thing to Consider for Review in the Insanity Defense

Being declared temporarily “insane” does not mean that the person will not be locked up. They can be locked up in a mental hospital for life or until they are found not to be a danger to members of the public.

Being declared insane does not apply to those people with a personality disorder unless they are also found to meet the standards for temporary insanity. For example, let’s say someone is a narcissist, sociopath, or psychopath. They can still be sent to jail for their crimes.

The motive of the crime can be found within seconds of committing it. For example, a defendant may not have set out to murder the person that they are trying to steal a car from. But, they can make that decision in those few seconds before they stab them.

In the case of Plackowska, there was clearly something not right with the thinking and sense of responsibility of the accused. She killed the two family dogs in a very cruel way. Two years were added to her life sentence for this. Nevertheless, the court decided that she did not meet the standards for a successful insanity defense.

Overview of the Law on Insanity

The insanity defense that was approved by the Illinois legislature is different from the insanity that psychiatrists and doctors refer to when they are describing people with mental illness. The legal definition has four tests that must be passed in order for the court to agree to the defense.

  • M’Naughten Test: In this case, the defendant must show that they were under the influence of another force such as voices. They must show they did not know whether what they were doing was right or wrong. They also must prove that their actions were not intended to be violent or harmful. For example, someone can claim the defense if they killed someone while sleepwalking.
  • Impulse Test: The accused must show that they were under the influence of an irresistible impulse due to a disease of the mind. The defense can hold even if the defendant was aware that what they were doing was wrong. The key standard is whether or not they could control themselves. For example, someone can claim the defense if they killed someone after finding them sexually abusing their child.
  • Durham Test: This defense requires that the defendant or their lawyers prove that there is a direct relationship between their criminal conduct and a mental disease or defect. For example, it can be used if someone had a brain injury that resulted in a personality change. It is essential that there is evidence that without the defect or disease, the person would never have acted in that way.
  • Model Penal Code Test: This is a formal definition that was created by the American Law Institute. It allows for the insanity defense to succeed if the person who committed a crime suffered from a mental condition or defect that made it impossible for them to appreciate that what they were doing was wrong and against the law. An example is if someone has an abnormally low IQ.

Advice for Defendants

The insanity defense is not an easy get-out clause. If you need help with your defense, contact David Freidberg Attorney at Law at 312-560-7100.

(image courtesy of Dmitry Ratushny)