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Arizona Supreme Court Rules that Defendants Pleading Insanity Must Disclose Examination Results

Posted by Adam Bleier | Aug 17, 2017 | 0 Comments

A new July ruling by the Arizona Supreme Court says that criminal defendants who voluntarily undergo a mental health examination after claiming an insanity defense must provide the results of this examination to the prosecution in their case. This ruling came down to address the question of whether or not providing such results would go against Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

Criminal defendants are now required to hand over to prosecutors any statements about the charges they may have made in the mental health examination. In order to protect defendants from this possibility of violating their Fifth Amendment rights, the court ruled that the “prosecutors can only use the statements to rebut insanity claims, not to prove guilt.”

In addition, the court unanimously ruled that forcing a defendant to hand over results of their mental health examination would not violate their right not to self-incriminate because “defendants claiming an insanity defense have waived their protection against self-incrimination.” Mental health examinations are considered voluntary if they are not ordered by the court.

The Insanity Defense in Arizona

In Arizona, a defendant cannot be found not guilty simply because they make a plea of insanity. In 1995, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that “Arizona does not allow evidence of a defendant's mental disorder short of insanity to negate the mens rea elements of a crime.” The mens rea element refers to the defendant's mental state at the time of the crime which caused them to commit wrongdoing.

Guilty Except Insane

According to state statutes, a defendant may also be found “guilty except insane” if it can be shown that “at the time of the commission of the criminal act the person was afflicted with a mental disease or defect of such severity that the person did not know the criminal act was wrong. A mental disease or defect constituting legal insanity is an affirmative defense.”

It is important to note that a “mental disease” refers to a clinically accepted type of mental illness such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or schizophrenia, among many other types. Excluded from this classification are “temporary conditions arising from the pressure of the circumstances, moral decadence, depravity or passion growing out of anger, jealousy, revenge, hatred or other motives in a person who does not suffer from a mental disease or defect.”

If the defendant makes the plea that they are guilty except insane, he or she will usually be sent to a state mental health facility for up to 30 days for an evaluation by a licensed professional with knowledge about state statutes and mental illnesses. The facility will then submit a report on the defendant's mental health to the court to be used in sentencing. If the defendant is found guilty except insane, they will be sentenced to a combination of time at a prison and a state hospital, depending on the particular scenario.

About the Author

Adam Bleier

Mr. Bleier devotes 100% of his practice to criminal defense. He defends clients in state and federal court at both the misdemeanor and felony level. He also takes on appeals and post-conviction cases.

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