Judge with gavel in courtroom

What is Temporary Insanity?

Is it possible that something could make a person so angry or afraid that they lose control of their body and act without rationality or sense? That’s the question posed by a plea of “temporary insanity.” The claim says that the accused had a mental disturbance so great that they lost their ability to distinguish right from wrong.

To get a fuller understanding of the temporary insanity plea, let’s examine its history and when it might apply.

A History of Temporary Insanity

In 1859, Dan Sickles (a U.S. Congressman and eventual hero of the Civil War) killed his wife’s lover two days after learning of the affair. Spotting the district attorney of Washington D.C. passing by his window, Sickles ran outside, screamed at the man, and fire three times. Then he turned himself in.

In court, Sickles claimed a temporary insanity overtook him. He claimed he was defending his family’s honor and that he acted without thinking. When he was acquitted at trial, he and his attorneys had created a new kind of defense strategy.

Proving Temporary Insanity

Proving temporary insanity is extremely difficult but can result in a lesser sentence or even acquittal. To prove the claim, an attorney must demonstrate that their client experienced something that caused them to “snap” and act without thinking. This usually means the act was a crime of passion.

People who claim temporary insanity often describe that they were “outside of their body” at the time of the incident or that they have no memory of the act at all. In either case, the most important factor is demonstrating that the accused had no predisposition to violence and did not premeditate the crime. It then falls upon the jury to come to a decision.

Stats on Temporary Insanity

Does a claim of temporary insanity work? Yes, actually. Less than 1% of all defendants make a plea of temporary insanity. Of those, roughly 25% are successful. The defense is more likely to succeed during a bench trial (rather than before a jury). Odds of success also increase if the defendant has a history of mental illness.

If you’re facing criminal charges, you may want legal representation. If you’d like an experienced Fort Worth Criminal Defense attorney from The Carreras Law Group, P.C. to evaluate your case, please send us an email or call (817) 402-2188.