Home Defenses Common Criminal Law Defenses: Infancy, Insanity, Intoxication

Common Criminal Law Defenses: Infancy, Insanity, Intoxication

Common Criminal Law Defenses: Infancy, Insanity, Intoxication


Insanity, infancy, and intoxication are three common defenses in criminal law. Criminal lawyer, paralegal or legal assistant will be able to work with the defendant in order to build the strongest case possible.  

An insanity defense attempts to prove that the actor was unaware of the wrongdoing based on mental disorder or defect. The defendant is not claiming that he did not commit the criminal act, but that he should not be held responsible because he is legally insane.

The defendant will be subject to a mental examination and, if his defense holds, he will usually be admitted to a psychiatric hospital, instead of being incarcerated. 

Forensic psychiatrists will evaluate the defendant's state of mind during the criminal offense, and if it is determined that he could not distinguish between right and wrong, then he may be not guilty by reason of insanity. The fact that a defendant may have a mental disorder does not automatically prove that he is not responsible for the criminal act. 

It must be proven by the defense that the mental disorder interfered with his judgment at the time of the crime. The insanity defense is a controversial topic within the legal system, because many people believe that this defense is simply an excuse and does not justify criminal acts. Insanity is not a commonly used offense, but instead it is more likely for a defendant to claim temporary mental incapacitation, like in an intoxication defense.  

Intoxication is sometimes used as a defense, and is especially effective if the intoxication was involuntary. Consumption of alcohol and drugs will effect peoples' inhibitions and may make them more likely to be involved in criminal activity. This defense is generally not successful if the defendant committed a crime, such as murder, and intoxication was part of the plan. For example, a wife may desire to kill her husband, but does not have the courage. 

If she drinks heavily in order to have the will to commit murder, intoxication will not absolve her of liability. The wife voluntarily consumed alcohol and therefore assumes the risk that the alcohol will effect her inhibitions and possibly cause her to lose control. On the other hand, if the wife consumed the alcohol involuntarily, like if someone spiked her drink, it is more likely that she will not be held liable for her actions. 

However, even when a substance is consumed involuntarily, the intoxication defense is not always effective. If the defendant should have reasonably known that he was being effected by an unknown substance, then he should have refrained from engaging in certain actions. If the defendant knows that there is a possibility that someone could have spiked his drink, then he should not, for example, get behind the wheel of a car.

The infancy defense claims that the defendant has not yet reached an age of criminal responsibility at the time of the offense, and therefore cannot be held responsible for his actions. Most legal systems have a separate criminal procedure for trying adults as opposed to juveniles. Juveniles are generally considered incapable of committing certain crimes that requires the mature intent of an adult. 

Therefore, children can be excused from liability from actions that would normally be considered criminal wrongs had they been performed by an adult. However, because children mature physically and mentally at varying speeds, it is difficult to assign an exact age to criminal responsibility. It is widely accepted, though, that children do not have the same mental capacity as adults, and it would be unfair to subject them to the same criminal punishment. 

In the United States, the age of criminal responsibility varies from state to state, but it is usually no younger than seven years old. Many jurisdictions do not set an exact age, but instead leave that decision to the judge and jury of a specific case. Depending on the nature of the crime and the child's individual mental capacity, it will be determined whether that defendant should be tried as an adult or juvenile.