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What does an insanity defense really mean?

The insanity defense has long been identified as a complicated term. After all, this type of defense can be rare and complex -- not to mention that the depths of the human brain are largely unknown. When a suspect wishes a jury to find them not guilty by reason of insanity, there are many factors that tie into this process. Each state, including Ohio, contains its own laws involving insanity pleas. It is important to understand these laws, as they can make all the difference in one's future opportunities.

Psychology Today is quick to point out that a legal insanity defense is incongruent with the medical or psychiatric terms of "insanity." Instead, this legal definition can overlap with medical terminology but can vary depending on the state. Psychology Today shares three rules that most states choose from when defining insanity:

  • Model Penal Code Rule
  • Durham Rule
  • M'Naghten Rule  

Written by the American Law Institute, the Model Penal Code rule holds that a criminal defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity if, because of mental disease or defect, that individual lacked the capacity to understand his or her conduct or adhere to the law. This rule serves as a bridge between the Durham rule and the M'Naghten rule. If a crime was the result of the defendant's illness, the Durham rule can apply; however, this rule is broad and is only exercised by the state of New Hampshire. The oldest rule, the M'Naghten, holds that a defendant did not know the nature of his or her actions because of their unhinged behavior at the time of the criminal act. 

Ohio exercises the M'Naghten rule, wherein, according to the Public Defender of the state of Ohio, a person is not guilty by reason of insanity in a case only if the individual proves they were unable to understand the wrongfulness of their acts. This inability of awareness must stem from a severe mental disease or defect. While there are many details involved in a mental disorder defense, the term "insanity" is highly debated upon nationwide.   

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