Insanity and Incompetency

Knowledgeable Criminal Defense Lawyers Serving Clients in Dallas, Rockwall, Forney and Hunt Counties

Criminal laws, for the most part, are focused on punishing a defendant’s intentional conduct. In some cases, however, a person who commits a crime because they are severely mentally ill may actually not know that what they did was against the law. In this case, a jury may find that person not guilty by reason of insanity, or NGRI. However, this is not the same thing as the person being incompetent to stand trial, and it is important for anyone facing serious felony charges to understand the differences between insanity and incompetence.

What Is the Insanity Defense?

Under Texas law, insanity is an affirmative defense. This means that when arguing the insanity defense, a defendant admits to committing the acts that form the basis of the crime. However, because the defendant suffered from severe mental illness, they did not know that their conduct was wrong. Importantly, the insanity defense only applies to the defendant’s mental state at the time they committed the alleged offense.

What Is Incompetence to Stand Trial?

Incompetence is a related but very different legal issue. Rather than focusing on the defendant’s mental state at the time of the alleged crime, incompetency refers to the defendant’s state at the time of trial. Under Texas Code of Criminal Procedure Art. 46B.003, a defendant is not competent to stand trial if,

  1. They do not have the present ability to consult with their lawyer; or
  2. They do not understand the proceedings against them.

All defendants are presumed to be competent to stand trial unless they can prove that they are incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence.

Practical Differences Between Insanity and Incompetence

Aside from the factual differences between insanity and incompetence, there are also practice differences that separate these two concepts. Primarily, the difference stems from what the court does in the event a defendant is found to be insane or incompetent.

When a defendant argues an insanity defense, they do so at trial. They must argue the insanity defense to the jury (or judge, in a bench trial), and it will make the final determination of whether the defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity. If so, it doesn’t mean that the defendant goes home. Instead, the court can commit the defendant to a residential or inpatient treatment facility or, in the alternative, order they seek community-based treatment. Typically, a defendant can remain committed until the judge no longer considers them a danger to themselves or others.

On the contrary, when a person claims to be incompetent to stand trial, the judge makes the final determination before the case reaches trial. If the judge finds the defendant is competent, they will order the defendant to be committed to a mental hospital or other treatment facility. If the person regains competency, they will then stand trial for the crimes. In this way, being found incompetent does not end a criminal case but only pauses it until the defendant has regained competence to stand trial. However, under Texas law, a judge cannot require a defendant to receive treatment for longer than the maximum allowable punishment for the crimes they face. The only exception to this is if the defendant is charged with misdemeanor offenses, in which case the court can commit a defendant for up to two years.  

If You Have Questions About Insanity Versus Incompetence, Reach Out to the Dedicated Criminal Defense Lawyers at Guest and Gray

If you or a loved one is facing serious criminal charges and believe that issues of insanity or incompetence are likely to come up at trial, reach out to the experienced defense lawyers at Guest and Gray. At Guest and Gray, we have extensive experience defending clients in a wide range of felony cases, including homicide and sex offenses. We will assess all of your potential defenses and work with you to develop a compelling defense strategy to whatever crimes you face. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with a criminal defense lawyer, give us a call at 972-564-4644 today. You can also reach us through our online contact form. We represent clients in Dallas, Hunt, Collin, Kaufman and Rockwall Counties.

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