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The Insanity Defense In Florida, A Deep Dive

The insanity defense is an often-used trope in legal dramas, and it frequently makes the news when it is used in Florida and elsewhere. However, there is a good bit of nuance surrounding the use of the insanity defense in Florida that the media frequently does not capture. This is what you need to know about the use of the insanity defense in Florida.


Generally speaking, the insanity defense is an affirmative defense, which means the defendant is admitting guilt but is arguing that they should not be held responsible for the crime because they did not understand the nature of their actions.


Defendants rarely raise the defense of insanity in Florida. The insanity defense is raised in fewer than 1 percent of all cases in Florida, and the odds of it being used successfully are not high. Frequently the insanity defense is not used in Florida because of the specific circumstances necessary and the stringent standards imposed on its use by the state.


According to Florida law, the following criteria must be met for a successful insanity defense:


The defendant was suffering from a mental defect or disease at the time of the crime.

Because of the condition, the defendant did not understand the nature of his actions and the consequences they might bring.


Because of this, the defendant did not understand that his actions were wrong.


A medical expert has testified and is persuasive on the issue of insanity.


In Florida, every defendant is presumed to be sane, and the issue of sanity is determined by the M’Naughten rule, which was a standard established in England in the 1840s. In order to prove otherwise, the defendant must prove that they are insane by clear and convincing evidence. Per Florida’s law, clear and convincing means the evidence must be accurate, explicit, and sufficiently clear to produce a firm belief on the issue the evidence is attempting to prove.


If the defendant makes a claim of not guilty by reason of insanity, the process at trial changes. The trial is then divided into two parts. In the first part, the guilt or innocence of the defendant is established by conventional means. If the defendant is convicted of the offense, the trial enters a second phase. In the second phase, the defendant’s claim of insanity is presented, and the court must come to a decision on that issue.


Should the defendant be found to not have been insane at the time of the crime, they will enter the Florida prison system and be handled just like any other inmate. However, if the defendant is found to have been insane at the time of the crime, the defendant is still remanded to the custody of the state, but will be placed into a secure mental health facility for treatment of their mental condition. No time is specified for treatment by the court, and that treatment may be for longer than the possible prison term the defendant would have served if found to not have been insane at the time of the crime.


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