How Does a Defendant’s Mental State Affect a Criminal Case?

When a person commits, or is charged of committing, a crime in Massachusetts, they are given the opportunity to defend themselves against charges. During their defense, the court will consider all factors relevant to the defendant’s case, including the defendant’s mental state at the time the crime was committed and their ability to stand trial. The following considers two aspects of mental state that are critical in a criminal case: competency to stand trial and the insanity defense.

Competency to Stand Trial

First, a review of how a defendant’s mental state affects their ability to stand trial. For a person to be determined to be competent to withstand trial, they must:

Understand the charges against them;
Understand that they are being charged with a crime; and
Understand the roles of the prosecutor, judge, jury, and their own defense attorney.

If a person is found to be mentally incompetent to stand trial, then the defendant typically will receive mental health services until they are restored to a point where withstanding trial is possible.

Criminal Trial and Insanity

The insanity defense is very different than incompetence to stand trial, the latter of which is based on the defendant’s mental state at the time the trial is to take place. The insanity defense in Massachusetts seeks to prove that the defendant lacks “criminal responsibility” due to the fact that they were not sane at the time the crime was committed. The law in Massachusetts reads that a person lacks criminal responsibility if they have a mental disease or defect, and because of that mental disease or defect they:

Are unable to understand the criminality or wrongfulness of their conduct; or Are unable to conform their conduct to be within the parameters of the law.

Proving insanity requires the opinions of psychiatric experts. Using the insanity defense to achieve an outcome of not guilty is rare, although it can be invoked when a person is seriously mentally ill. An article in, which cites the American Psychiatric Association, explains that when people are acquitted of a crime due to insanity, they often spend twice as much time in a psychiatric institution as they would in a correctional facility.

How Our Experienced Massachusetts Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

A defendant’s mental state at the time that a crime was committed, and at the time that a trial is set to take place, can have a significant effect on the outcome of a case. If you are the loved one a person whom you believe to be too mentally incompetent to stand trial, or whom you believe was lacking sanity at the time that a crime was committed, it is crucial that you reach out to our experienced Massachusetts criminal defense attorney at The Law Offices of Paul R. Moraski. Paul Moraski has represented those who are mentally unfit to stand trial in the past, and understands Massachusetts’ laws regarding mental incompetence and insanity. Please contact Paul today on his cellphone to schedule a free case review at (978) 397-0011.