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Discussion of Insanity Defense in Maryland

The purpose of the insanity defense in Maryland is to ensure that the criminal sanction is imposed only on those who had the cognitive and volitional capacity to comply with the law. Robey v. State, 54 Md.App. 60, 73, 456 A.2d 953, 960 (Md.App. 1983).

The test to determine whether a defendant is not criminally responsible for certain conduct is twofold. The Code of Maryland dictates that, “a defendant is not criminally responsible for criminal conduct of, at the time of that conduct, the defendant, because of a mental disorder or mental retardation, lacks substantial capacity to: (1) appreciate the criminality of the conduct; or (2) conform that conduct to the requirements of the law.” Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §3-109(a). “The burden is on the defendant to establish to the defense of not criminally responsible by a preponderance of the evidence.” Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §3-110(b). Once the defendant has provided sufficient evidence of mental disorder to rebut the presumption of sanity, the burden then shifts to the State to prove sanity beyond a reasonable. Robey, 54 Md. at 75.

The first prong of this test requires that a defendant was suffering from a mental disorder at the time that the crime was committed. Mental disorder is defined in the Code as “a behavioral or emotional illness that results from a behavioral or emotional illness that results from a psychiatric or neurological disorder.” Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §3-101(g)(1). “Mental disorder includes a mental illness that so substantially impairs the mental or emotional functioning of a person as to make care or treatment necessary or advisable for the welfare of the person or for the safety of the person or property of another.” Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §3-101(g)(2). For example, in Evans v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals found that an amnesic episode was not shown to be a mental disorder because it was not shown to be a mental, emotional, or behavioral illness. Evans v. State, 322 Md. 24, 31 (Md. 1991). It is important to note, however, that the court also based its holding on the reasoning that the defendant had not produced sufficient evidence to support its expert’s finding of an amnesic episode. Id. In addition, “for purposes of this section, ‘mental disorder’ does not include an abnormality that is manifested only by repeated criminal or otherwise antisocial conduct.” Md. Code Ann., Crim Proc. §3-109(b).

The second prong of the test requires that the defendant could not conform her actions to the law or appreciate the criminality of her conduct because of her mental disorder.

It is the responsibility of the defendant to raise the issue of criminal responsibility. “If a defendant intends to rely on a plea of not criminally responsible, the defendant or defense counsel shall file a written plea alleging, in substance, that when the alleged crime was committed, the defendant was not criminally responsible by reason of insanity under the test for criminal responsibility,” as it is defined in the Maryland Code. Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §3-110(a)(1). The written plea should be filed at the time of the defendant’s initial hearing, although the court can allow the plea to be filed later for good cause shown. Md. Code Ann., Crim. Proc. §3-110(a)(2). Without this written plea, however, a court may not enter a verdict of not criminally responsible. Md. Code, Crim. Proc. §3-110(d).

For more information regarding the insanity defense in Maryland criminal cases, please contact Steve Silverman.