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What is an Insanity Defense?

On Behalf of | May 5, 2021 | Criminal Charges, Criminal Defense |

Have you ever heard about a crime and thought, “they must have been crazy to do such a thing” – sometimes, they do in fact have a mental situation that can be explained with a medical diagnosis. When crimes such as these are committed, the defense attorney on the case may consider entering into an insanity defense.

An insanity defense is a type of admission to guilt that relies on a mental disorder defense and affirmation to argue that the defendant is not responsible for their actions due to having episodic or persistent psychiatric disease as the criminal act was being committed. Sometimes the mental disease is so debilitating that the defendant is unable to go on trial because the mental disease prevents them from effectively assisting their hired or appointed counsel.

Notable Cases Featuring an Insanity Defense

  • John Hinkley, Jr – One of the most famous cases with this type of defense involved a man named John Hinkley, Jr. Hinkley developed an obsession with the 1981 movie, Taxi Driver that led to him stalking actress Jodie Foster, and also attempting to assassinate President Ronald Reagan. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sentenced to a mental institution and was released in 2016 into the custody of his mother.
  • ·      Lorena Bobbit – In 1993, Lorena Bobbit’s abusive husband came home inebriated and the events of the evening led to her cutting of part of her husband’s genitalia and throwing it into a field before calling 911. The jury deliberated and Lorena was acquitted of her charges due to temporary insanity and could not be held responsible for her actions. She was however ordered to go under psychiatric evaluation for 45 days and was released thereafter. 
  • ·      Steven Steinberg – In 1981 Steinberg stabbed his wife 26 times with a kitchen knife, but claimed to have done it while sleepwalking, which meant he technically wasn’t in his right mind. The closest defense to explain this was the insanity defense – it worked and Steinberg was deemed sane once the trial ended and was able to walk as a free man.
  • ·      Bruco Eastwood – The youngest person on our list of insanity defense crimes, Eastwood had a history of mental illness before opening fire at a Colorado school in 2010 where he seriously injured two people. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic whose actions were dictated by delusions and audio hallucinations. He was found not guilty and was admitted into a mental health facility shortly after.

What Happens When an Insanity Defense Verdict Is Reached?

A verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity usually results in the defendant being committed to a mental institution rather than a prison sentence. They may also be released early into the care of a family member who vows to keep them on the straight and narrow, and to monitor them and/or their medical needs.

If you or a loved one is currently being charged with a crime that you believe was committed during an outburst caused by a mental disorder, contacting an experienced criminal defense attorney to assist in your case is paramount. Russell Spatz has decades of experience in all fields in the criminal justice department and always puts his clients and their best interest first. Give him a call today at 305-442-0200.








Statutes & Constitution :View Statutes : Online Sunshine, 18 Sept. 2019,




“He Once Tried to Kill President Reagan. Now John Hinckley Says He’s ‘Happy as a Clam’.” Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, 26 Mar. 2019,



“Top 10 Most Notorious Insanity Defense Cases.” Listverse, 23 Sept. 2014,

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