Can I Plead Insanity to Escape Criminal Charges?

If you’ve watched a lot of courtrooms dramas, you’ve no doubt encountered a scene in which charges against a defendant accused of a crime–typically a rather heinous one–are dropped on the basis that the defendant is insane. However, the way that the insanity defense works in actual, real-world criminal cases is much different than how TV portrays it. Consider the following about the insanity defense in Massachusetts, when it’s used, what it means, and whether or not it may be applicable in your case–

Insanity Defense Definition and the Model Penal Code

Over the decades, different jurisdictions throughout the U.S. have used different standards for defining insanity and when the insanity defense applies; today, separate states still maintain the right to allow or disallow the insanity defense (three states, Montana, Idaho, and Utah do not allow the insanity defense at all).

In an attempt to modernize the definition of insanity and create uniformity across jurisdictions, the American Law Institute developed a new rule for insanity in 1972. The rule was adopted into the Model Penal Code, and by various jurisdictions throughout the United States, including Massachusetts. The rule reads that a defendant will not be found guilty of a crime, if, as a result from suffering from a mental disease, the defendant did not possess a “substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality of [their] conduct or to conform [their] conduct to the requirements of the law.”

Lack of Criminal Responsibility

Based on the definition provided above, a defendant will be found not guilty by reason of insanity if it can be proven that the individual lacked criminal responsibility at the time of the crime (i.e. did not possess a substantial capacity to understand the criminality of conduct). This is known as the insanity defense.

But proving lack of criminal responsibility by reason of insanity is complicated. While the state has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was sane at the time that the crime was committed, winning an insanity plea is rare. In fact, the insanity defense is rarely invoked; according to an article published by, the insanity defense is raised in fewer than one percent of felony cases, and is successful in only a fraction of those.

How Our Lawyer Can Help if You Are Facing Criminal Charges

If you are facing criminal charges and you believe that you were insane at the time that the crime was committed, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney on your side. Attorney Paul R. Moraski can explain to you in more detail the insanity defense and whether or not it may apply in your case; if not, our attorney can guide you through your other defense options and help you to build your case. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your crime, if you’re facing criminal charges, hiring a lawyer is a must.

For your free consultation, please call The Law Office of Paul R. Moraski at 978-397-0011, or send us a message with more information about the charges you are facing.