A DuPage County man who was charged with the attempted murder of his mother was declared not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to up to 30 years in a mental institution. A DuPage County judge found the defendant mentally unfit to stand trial for the 2011 stabbing and entered the ruling. But what level of competency is required to stand trial, and what does it mean to be found not guilty by reason of insanity?
Illinois Standard for Mental Fitness to Stand Trial
Under Illinois law each criminal defendant is presumed fit to stand trial. The criminal defense attorney has the burden of proving that, due either to mental or physical condition, the defendant is mentally unfit to stand trial because he does not “understand the nature and purpose of the proceedings” and is unable to assist in his defense.
Being mentally fit for trial does not mean that defendant will automatically be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Mental fitness to stand trial has to do with the defendant’s ability, at the moment of trial, to understand the purpose of the trial and assist in his defense. It has nothing to do with whether the defendant understands the nature of his alleged crime at the time of commission.
Mental fitness to stand trial can change over time. A defendant can be competent at the time of arrest but found incompetent – perhaps due to a subsequent injury unrelated to the charged crime – at the time of trial. Or a defendant can be mentally unfit when the crime was committed, such as if he suffers from a mental illness, but may be declared fit for trial once he is on a course of medication to keep his mental illness under control. It is not uncommon for prosecutors to seek a continuance of trial when a defendant is deemed mentally unfit to see if there is a possibility that he will regain the required competency to stand trial
Illinois “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity” Verdict
In order for a defendant to be found not guilty by reason of insanity in Illinois, it must be proven that, at the time the crime was committed, the defendant lacked “substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct” as a result of a mental disease or defect. In these cases, the defendant was unable to recognize that his actions were wrong.
Like proving the defendant is mentally unfit to stand trial, the burden is on the defense to prove, by clear and convincing evidence, that the defendant lacked substantial capacity to recognize that his actions were wrong, and should therefore be found not guilty by reason of insanity. The prosecution still bears the burden of proving the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If the jury finds the defendant committed the crime, it may then decide whether to find him insane. The issue of the defendant’s sanity cannot be considered unless the jury finds that he committed the crime.
As evidenced in the above case, being found not guilty by reason of insanity does not mean that the defendant walks free. Criminal defendants who have been found insane can be committed to mental institutions, sometimes for a pre-determined sentence, and in other cases until the defendant can be cured of the mental defect.
Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney
Proving mental unfitness to stand trial, or that the defendant suffered a mental defect that made him criminally insane, are heavy burdens to prove. An experienced Chicago criminal defense attorney is vital if the defendant’s mental fitness or capacity to understand the nature of his actions are at issue. With almost two decades’ of experience handling cases involving mental fitness and mental capacity throughout Chicago, Skokie and DuPage County, David L. Freidberg has access to medical experts who can help prepare a competency defense. Contact us at 312-560-7100, any day of the week, to schedule a free initial consultation.