Mental Health Defenses: Insanity Defense and Guilty But Mentally Ill

Posted by Joseph D. Lento | Jun 20, 2020 | 0 Comments

In May 2020 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a four-year-old boy was found naked and covered in gasoline. Soon thereafter, authorities located and apprehended the boy's father, 27-year-old Josiah James Macintosh reeking of gasoline and with a disposable lighter in his possession.

After telling police that he was trying to “burn the demon out” of his son, Macintosh was arrested and charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, making terroristic threats, arson, and child endangerment.

While there's no way to know what was happening in the mind of Macintosh during the time of the incident, his reference to demons suggests that perhaps he may not have been in full control of his mental faculties. In situations such as these where a defendant may be able to argue that they couldn't appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct — or even that they couldn't know what they were doing or if they did now, that what they were doing was wrong — they may be able to present a mental health defense.

Insanity Defense

If successful, insanity it is a complete defense to a crime in Pennsylvania. That is, if a judge or jury finds that a person meets the legal standard for insanity, they will also find that the person is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Pennsylvania follows the M’Naghten Rule to determine whether a defendant is legally insane. The burden of proof is on the defense to show by a preponderance of the evidence that a person was incapable of knowing what they were doing at the time of the crime or if they were capable of knowing, that they were incapable of judging that what they were doing was wrong.

Importantly, this test is a legal one and not a medical one, so it is crucial to have an experienced medical health defense lawyer by your side if you would like to pursue this defense at trial.

Guilty But Mentally Ill

A jury or judge who has concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty of the crime but that is not convinced that the defendant is legally insane may find that the defendant is mentally ill and lacked the substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of their conduct. In this instance, they may issue a “guilty but mentally ill” verdict.

Notably, a person found guilty but mentally ill still receives punishment under sentencing guidelines but also gains the right to “appropriate psychiatric treatment.”

This area of law is highly nuanced and can be quite confusing, especially as laws concerning the insanity defense and mental health defenses vary by state. If you are facing serious criminal charges and your mental health may be an issue, please contact Joseph D. Lento online today or call 888-535-3686 to begin working on your defense.

About the Author

Joseph D. Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento passionately fights for the futures of his clients in criminal courtrooms in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania as well as in New Jersey and nationwide. He does not settle for the easiest outcome, and instead prioritizes his clients' needs and well-being. With unparalleled experience occupying several roles in the criminal justice system outside of being an attorney, Joseph D. Lento can give you valuable behind-the-scenes insight as to what is happening during all phases of the legal process. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!


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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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