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Criminal Insanity Defense in New Jersey Under Section 2C:4-1

Insanity can drive people to commit serious crimes. If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime and you believe that it happened because of insanity, you may be able to use it as a defense; pleading insanity as a defense in New Jersey requires proving that you did not know that what you were doing was wrong.

New Jersey has some of the most difficult insanity defense requirements in the country. If you or someone you know has committed a crime and you believe that insanity may be a valid defense, you should seek legal help immediately. A lawyer from the Law Offices of John J. Zarych may be able to help craft an insanity defense for your case. To learn more about how attorneys from the Law Offices of John J. Zarych can help you with your criminal defense, call (609) 616-4956 at your earliest convenience.

Using a Criminal Insanity Defense in New Jersey

According to Section 2C:4-1 of New Jersey statute, a person cannot be held criminally responsible for their conduct if, at the time of the conduct, he or she was “laboring under such a defect of reason, from disease of the mind as not to know the nature and quality of the act he was doing.” According to this statute, if the person knew what they were doing but they did not know that it was wrong, they cannot be held responsible.

Essentially, the criminal insanity defense in New Jersey is based on the cognitive perception of the individual’s own behavior; whether or not the individual had the ability to change their own behavior is not relevant.

Using insanity as a defense in New Jersey is a type of affirmative defense, which means that the person using this defense will need to prove that they lack the ability to understand not only their own actions but the consequences of those actions. Prosecution does not need to prove that you were sane at the time that you committed the actions; however, you must prove that you were not sane. You, as the defendant, must use evidence to prove that you did not understand your actions, nor their consequences, when you committed the crime.

The court does have the right to appoint a psychiatrist or psychologist to examine the defendant’s mental state. During the examination, the defendant must be committed for no more than 30 days. The examination will result in a report, which will describe the examination of the defendant, a diagnosis of their mental condition, and a final decision regarding their ability to understand the proceedings and to participate in their own defense.

During this examination, any answers that the defendant provides to questions about the crime charged against them will not be able to be used as evidence to prove their guilt. A defendant’s unwillingness to cooperate will also be mentioned in the report, along with a determination about whether not it is a result of mental incompetence.

After this report is submitted, the court will determine whether or not the defendant is fit to proceed. If the court does determine that the defendant is unfit to proceed, then the criminal proceedings will be suspended and the court will decide whether or not the defendant should be institutionalized. If the defendant is acquitted by insanity and does not seem to be a danger to the community, then they may be released.

The M’Naghten Test for Pleading Insanity

Pleading insanity as a defense for a criminal offense in New Jersey will invoke the M’Naghten Test. This test determines whether or not a defendant had the mental capabilities to be held responsible for their crimes.

According to the M’Naghten Test, a defendant can be defined as legally insane if they meet two conditions. The first criteria is lacking the mental capacity to understand the nature of their actions. The second criteria is that if they did understand their actions, they were unable to understand that those actions were legally and/or morally wrong. If, according to psychiatrists hired by the court, the defendant meets either criteria, they are proven to be not guilty by reason of insanity.

The M’Naghten Test is one of four tests used by various states to determine whether a defendant can be held accountable for criminal behavior using an insanity defense. (The M’Naghten Test is regarded as the most stringent and difficult to prove.) The other tests that are used are:

  • The Irresistible Impulse Test – According to this test, the defendant is able to use insanity as a defense if they are unable to control their impulses due to a mental disorder and their lack of impulse control led to a criminal act.
  • The Model Penal Code Test – According to the Model Penal Code Test, a defendant, due to mental defect, was unable to act within legal constraints or understand the criminality of their acts.
  • The Durham Rule – According to the Durham Rule, a criminal act must have occurred because of a defendant’s mental defect. A clinical diagnosis of the defendant’s mental state is not relevant.

New Jersey Attorney for Criminal Insanity Defense

Using insanity as a defense for a criminal charge in New Jersey requires experience. The legal experts from the Law Offices of John J. Zarych have the expertise needed to properly use insanity as a defense for behavior in a criminal case. Get in touch with them immediately to learn more during a free and confidential consultation. Call (609) 616-4956 today.