The insanity defense appears frequently in news stories and popular culture. The application of the defense is not as cut and dry as most people believe. Different states use different tests for insanity. Someone who is insane under Colorado Law is not necessarily insane under Wyoming Law or someone insane under Wyoming Law is not necessarily insane under Colorado Law.
In Colorado, the defense of insanity is a specific plea entered at arraignment. With good cause, a court may permit the plea to be entered after arraignment, but before trial. The defendant or his counsel must enter the plea in the form of “Not guilty by reason of insanity“. An attorney may inform the court that the attorney believes his client should enter a plea of ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ and the client is refusing to enter the plea. If this is the case the court may conduct an investigation which could include the appointment of psychiatrists or forensic psychologists to examine the defendant and advise the court. If the court finds that the entry of a ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ plea is necessary for the “just determination of the charge”, the court may enter the plea with the same effect as if the defendant had entered it himself.
The test for insanity in Colorado is that “A person who is so diseased or defective in mind at the time of the commission of the act as to be incapable of distinguishing right from wrong with respect to that act;” OR “A person who suffered from a condition of mind caused by mental disease or defect that prevented the person from forming a culpable mental state that is an essential element of a crime charged”. Both prongs of the test expressly state care should be taken not to confuse “moral obliquity, mental depravity, or passion growing out of anger, revenge, hatred, or other motives and kindred evil conditions” for mental disease or defect.
In the first test, the critical language is ‘incapable of distinguishing right from wrong’ which refers to the cognitive abilities of the defendant and whether the defendant is capable of measuring right from wrong under the societal standard of morality. It does not refer to a personal or subjective standard of right and wrong. The second test only applies when the crimes which are “specific intent” crimes, or crimes where the mindset of the defendant is an element of the offense. For example, to commit premeditated murder in the first degree in Colorado, the defendant must intend to kill the victim. The defendant could plead insanity and it would have to be proven that they had the mental capabilities to form the intent to kill the victim.
Another interesting thing about a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity in Colorado is that it is the prosecutions burden to prove the defendant is sane. When the plea is properly entered, it becomes the prosecution, the District Attorney, burden. Meaning the DA must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is sane. This differs from a majority of states where it is the defense’s burden to prove that the defendant is insane.
A plea of not guilty by reason of insanity is something that should be entered into with deep consideration and long discussion with an attorney. Contact Peter Loyd Weber & Associates at (720) 863-7755 if you have a pending criminal matter and have questions about how we can help you with your case.