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Michigan's insanity defense explained

Mental illness is a serious health problem in the United States, and Michigan is no exception. Millions of Americans are living with mental illness, and the vast majority of them pose no more of a danger to others than the rest of the public.

However, sometimes a person in the grip of mental illness commits a crime. Michigan law recognizes that in many cases like this, the person cannot be held responsible for his or her actions in the usual way. This is commonly known by the somewhat outdated term “insanity defense.”

Under state law, a defendant cannot be guilty of a crime if he or she has been diagnosed with a relevant illness, such as schizophrenia, and at the time of the incident:

  • Was unable to appreciate the criminality of his or her conduct, or
  • Was unable to conform his or her conduct to remain within the law.

Different states use different rules when it comes to establishing an insanity defense. Michigan is among 18 jurisdictions that use this standard, which is known as the Model Penal Code test. All use fairly similar language. Four states do not allow the insanity defense, but three of those states do allow the jury to reach a “guilty but insane” verdict.

The result of a successful insanity defense is often medical treatment instead of prison.

When someone is struggling with mental illness, the solution is medical intervention, not incarceration. However, establishing an insanity defense is often very difficult, requiring the skills of an experienced and dedicated defense attorney.

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