Most people are familiar with the phrase “not guilty by reason of insanity” (NGRI). In the legal system, NGRI occurs when criminal defendants admit the criminal act, but claim they were so mentally disturbed at the time of the crime that they lacked the mental capacity necessary to commit a crime. The legal standard for insanity varies from state to state. (For the Florida standard, go here.)
Famous cases where defendants raised NGRI are:
John Hinckley, Jr. (attempted to assassinate President Ronald Reagan)—More info
Steven Burky (the celebrity stalker of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner)—More info
Andrea Yates (who drowned her five children in a bathtub)—More info
Daniel Gonzalez (serial killer)—More info
While many people are familiar with the concept of NGRI, few understand what actually happens in an NGRI proceeding. NGRI is an affirmative trial defense, meaning that it is a defense that the defendant must prove to the jury. If a defendant successfully convinces a jury that he committed a criminal act while insane, the jury may find the defendant Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity.
In Florida, the statutory framework controlling NGRI is rather broad and imprecise. Basically, it provides that the defendant has the burden of proving he had a mental deficiency, and that the deficiency caused the defendant not to appreciate his criminal actions or its consequences, or that his criminal acts were wrong. Neither a legal standard to gauge mental deficiency nor factual criteria to evaluate the defendant’s understanding is specified by statute.
If a defendant successfully convinces a jury that his mental deficiency relieves him of culpability for a criminal act, it necessarily implies that, at the time of the offense, the mental deficiency made him a danger to himself or others because it led to that criminal act. Thus, evidence adduced at trial tends to prove that, because of the illness, the defendant is manifestly dangerous to himself or others.
In practice, Florida law gives the presiding judge wide latitude to exercise discretion in disposing of an NGRI verdict. Based upon judicial findings regarding whether a defendant has a mental deficiency and is a danger to himself or others, a judge may commit the defendant to a treatment facility, release him upon certain conditions, or discharge him to freedom and close the case.
The court maintains authority over the matter until the defendant is discharged to freedom or dies. Pursuant to information periodically provided to the court, a judge may respond to changing circumstances by involuntarily committing the defendant, conditionally releasing the defendant, or discharging the case.
Florida References for NGRI
References to NGRI can be found in both statutes and rules. Here are some links to Florida law: